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Baghdad Pins Security Hopes On 13,000 CCTV Cameras

The new high-tech checkpoints will feature booths for each lane, where drivers and licence plates will be photographed as identification is checked.
Iraq's fragile coalition government is pinning its hopes on a network of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to show it can bring some measure of security to Baghdad following the withdrawal of U.S. troops last December.

Some 13,000 sophisticated surveillance cameras are now being installed around the Iraqi capital as part of a $17 million project approved in February by the Baghdad provincial council.

Abdul Karim Tharb, chairman of the provincial council's Security Committee, said installation of the cameras should be completed within several months.

"We asked our offices in all of Baghdad's districts to provide us with information about where the most important places are to put up these security cameras -- the most crowded areas, government buildings, shopping centers," Tharb said.

"The contract is signed and a Chinese supplier will implement the plan."

Hi-Tech Checkpoints

Part of the project includes building a new control center in Baghdad where Interior Ministry police can monitor activity captured by cameras throughout the capital.

Plans for the security-system upgrade also include 18 high-technology checkpoints positioned around the Iraqi capital -- eight on the main roadways leading into Baghdad and 10 at critical locations around the city. The checkpoints are to be staffed by Iraqi Army troops.

Baghdad Governor Salah Abdul Razaq said the first checkpoints to get the upgrade were at Dora, on Baghdad's southern gateway to Al-Hillah; and at Taji in northwest Baghdad, on the highway leading to Ramadi.

Baghdad Governor Salah Abdul Razaq has high hopes for the security upgrade.
Baghdad Governor Salah Abdul Razaq has high hopes for the security upgrade.
Razaq said the two checkpoints "will include metal gateways across six lanes of traffic. Every lane will have an inspector's booth. At the same time that identification cards of drivers are checked at the inspection booths, a photo will be taken of the driver and his vehicle with its registration number. All of this information will be saved in a database."

Razaq hopes the database will help the authorities track would-be terrorists and prevent them from planning coordinated bombings, like the waves of attacks that continue to rattle Baghdad amid heightened sectarian tensions between Shi'a, Sunnis, and Kurds.

'Security Depends On Politics'

Despite Razaq's confidence in the technology, not all of the city's residents think the security upgrade will make them safer.

Baghdad resident Akram al-Haidari blames Iraq's political leaders for the sectarian violence that has led to bombings and killings on a daily basis since the U.S. troop withdrawal.

"We will remain concerned and afraid about security because of the political crisis and disputes between the political groups. Nothing will help us -- not sonar and not security scanners [for detecting weapons or bombs]. Nothing can protect us," Haidari said.

"None of this equipment is useful for providing security. Security depends upon our rival politicians resolving their disputes."

To be sure, Baghdad authorities have used closed-circuit cameras for years in an attempt to improve security.

But Muhammad al-Rabee, a member of Baghdad's city council, said the quality of images from Baghdad's existing CCTV cameras were "not of the desired quality." He also said the current cameras did not make recordings around the clock.

He said that had paved the way for "terrorists" to continuously attack Baghdad using car bombs and improvised explosive devices.

Written by RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz, based on reporting by RFE/RL Radio Free Iraq correspondent Saad Kamil in Baghdad