July 9, 2009
|Even with American combat forces ostensibly withdrawn, Baghdad remains one of the most militarized urban areas in the world.|
Fireworks lit up the Baghdad sky on the evening of June 30th, signaling the advent of “National Sovereignty Day.” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared the new holiday to commemorate the withdrawal of American combat troops from the Iraqi capital and all other major urban centers, although thousands of “advisers” would remain in the cities, embedded with Iraqi forces. The celebration transpired inside a city that has been radically transformed over the past six years. Even with American combat forces ostensibly withdrawn, Baghdad remains one of the most militarized urban areas in the world. It wasn’t always so. When I was in Baghdad during the 1990s, I was struck by the lack of an overt military presence for a nation purported to be governed by one of the world’s worst militaristic dictatorships.
Of course, in the city areas housing Saddam Hussein, his family and inner circle, and the seat of government, one would see green-clad soldiers of the Special Republican Guard standing watch over the gates controlling access into and out of these islands of power and privilege. But in the rest of the city—the vast majority of the city—there was no military presence. Traffic police stood on little islands in the middle of busy intersections, keeping the bustle of a modern city moving along at a brisk pace. There were soldiers in uniform around, but they carried no weapons, being on leave from their duties in Iraq’s conscript military. Just like their fellow servicemen in other cities around the world, they would enjoy a day or two walking the streets and markets of Baghdad, taking in the sights and sounds, grabbing a glass of tea, a quick meal and the sight of pretty girls neatly attired in Western-style dress.
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