The New York Times page one story today is about Baghdad’s improved security. The facts seem to speak for themselves. And yet:
The security improvements in most neighborhoods are real. Days now pass without a car bomb, after a high of 44 in the city in February. The number of bodies appearing on Baghdad’s streets has plummeted to about 5 a day, from as many as 35 eight months ago, and suicide bombings across Iraq fell to 16 in October, half the number of last summer and down sharply from a recent peak of 59 in March, the American military says.
As a result, for the first time in nearly two years, people are moving with freedom around much of this city. In more than 50 interviews across Baghdad, it became clear that while there were still no-go zones, more Iraqis now drive between Sunni and Shiite areas for work, shopping or school, a few even after dark. In the most stable neighborhoods of Baghdad, some secular women are also dressing as they wish. Wedding bands are playing in public again, and at a handful of once shuttered liquor stores customers now line up outside in a collective rebuke to religious vigilantes from the Shiite Mahdi Army.
Iraqis are clearly surprised and relieved to see commerce and movement finally increase, five months after an extra 30,000 American troops arrived in the country. But the depth and sustainability of the changes remain open to question.
By one revealing measure of security — whether people who fled their home have returned — the gains are still limited. About 20,000 Iraqis have gone back to their Baghdad homes, a fraction of the more than 4 million who fled nationwide, and the 1.4 million people in Baghdad who are still internally displaced, according to a recent Iraqi Red Crescent Society survey.
Meanwhile, the devastated city of Fallujah remains an open sore (not that you’ll read this in the Times):
Three years after a devastating U.S.-led siege of the city, residents of Fallujah continue to struggle with a shattered economy, infrastructure, and lack of mobility.
The city that was routed in November 2004 is still suffering the worst humanitarian conditions under a siege that continues. Although military actions are down to the minimum inside the city, local and US authorities do not seem to be thinking of ending the agonies of the over 400,000 residents of Fallujah.
“You, people of the media, say things in Fallujah are good,” Mohammad Sammy, an aid worker for the Iraqi Red Crescent in Fallujah told IPS, “Then why don’t you come and live in this paradise with us? It is so easy to say things for you, isn’t it?”
All of the residents interviewed by IPS were extremely angry with the media for recent reports that the situation in the city is good. Many refused to be quoted for different reasons.
“Fallujah is probably the city that had the most of media coverage in the history of the occupation,” Hatam Jawad, a school headmaster in Fallujah told IPS. “People are tired of shouting and appearing on TV to complain, without feeling any change in their sorrowful living situation. Some of them are afraid of police revenge for telling the truth.”
Many residents told IPS that U.S.-backed Iraqi Police and Army personnel have detained people who have spoken to the media.
“I am not going to tell you whether it is good or bad to be a Fallujah resident,” 55-year-old lawyer, Shakir Naji, told IPS. “Why don’t you just ask what the prices of essential materials are and judge for yourself? Kerosene for heating is almost one U.S. dollar per liter, a jar of propane gas is 15 dollars, and it is not winter yet when the prices will definitely be doubled.”