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Wall by wall, security rises

BAGHDAD - The Iraqi capital hasn't been this quiet in years. But the respite from bloodshed comes at a high price.

BAGHDAD - The Iraqi capital hasn't been this quiet in years. But the respite from bloodshed comes at a high price.

Up to 20 feet high in some sections.

Rows after rows of barrier walls divide the city into smaller and smaller areas that protect people from bombings, sniper fire and kidnappings. They also lead to gridlock, rising prices for food and homes, and complaints about living in what feels like a prison.

Baghdad's walls are everywhere. They have turned a riverside capital of leafy neighborhoods and palm-lined boulevards into a city of shadows that separate Sunnis from Shiites.

The walls block access to schools, mosques, churches, hotels, homes, markets, and even entire neighborhoods - almost anything that could be attacked. For many Iraqis, they have become the iconic symbol of the war.

"Maybe one day they will remove it," said Kareem Mustapha, 26, of Sadr City, who lives a five-minute walk from a wall built this spring in the large Shiite district. "I don't know when, but it is not soon."

Walls are still going up, the latest one around the northwestern Shiite neighborhood of Hurriyah, where thousands of Sunnis were slaughtered or expelled in 2006. They could well be around for years, enforcing the capital's fragile peace and enshrining its sectarian divisions.

Some walls are colorful, painted by young artists with scenes depicting green pastures or the pomp and glory of Iraq's ancient civilizations.

Others are commercial, plastered with flyers advertising everything from the local kebab joint to seaside vacations in Iran or university degrees in Ukraine.

Still others are religious or political, with posters of popular clerics or graffiti hostile to the United States, Israel - or Iraq's prime minister. Most are just bleak and gray.

Dora, a onetime stronghold of Sunni insurgents in southern Baghdad, has so many walls and observation towers that some parts resemble a maze. Its Moalimeen area, once among the most dangerous places in the capital, is now accessible to pedestrians through revolving iron doors guarded by security forces.

"The walls have stopped gunmen from coming into the neighborhood," said Salim Ahmed, 29, an oil-refinery worker who lives and works in Dora. "But we also feel that we are in a prison and isolated from the rest of the city."

In some areas, the walls delay the movement of food and other essential supplies, raising prices. Where successful in preventing attacks and reducing crime, the walls push up the prices of homes.

The U.S. military credits the walls with disrupting the movement and supply routes of the Sunni militants of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Shiite militiamen of the so-called special groups. It disagrees that the walls are dividing the city along sectarian lines.

First introduced by the Americans in 2003 to protect their Green Zone headquarters, walls became much more widespread with the launch early last year of a major security campaign in Baghdad. In some walled-off neighborhoods, access was granted only on proof of residence or special ID cards.

Now there is hardly a street in Baghdad without a wall, or a cheaper substitute such as barbed wire, palm-tree trunks, or piles of rocks.

In April, the U.S. military sealed off the southern section of Sadr City to put the U.S. Embassy and Iraqi government offices out of range of rockets and mortar rounds fired by Shiite militiamen.

The shelling has since stopped, and quick-thinking entrepreneurs rushed to lay claim to a spot against the wall to sell produce.

Because of the Sadr City wall, Mustapha's trip to work every day now involves a 15-minute walk and two minibus rides, a major inconvenience considering Baghdad's unforgiving summer heat.

"It's both annoying and useful," he said. "It makes us feel like prisoners, but things have calmed down since they built it."

Abu Ghraib Contractors Sued

Three Iraqis


a Jordanian filed federal lawsuits yesterday alleging they were tortured by U.S. defense contractors while at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

The suits allege

that detainees at Abu Ghraib were subjected to forced nudity, electrical shocks, mock executions, and other inhumane treatment.

"These innocent men

were senselessly tortured by U.S. companies that profited from their misery," lead attorney Susan L. Burke of the Philadelphia law firm Burke O'Neil said.


named in the suits are CACI International Inc. of Arlington, Va.,

and New York-based L-3 Communications Corp., formerly Titan Corp.

CACI spokeswoman

Jody Brown, in a statement, said the lawsuits repeat "baseless allegations" made more than four years ago in another case brought by the same lawyers. L-3 did not immediately respond to

a request for comment.

escaped assassination yesterday in a series of small bomb attacks in east Baghdad that police believe may be part of a Shiite extremist campaign to force them

to free jailed militants or reduce their sentences. One judge was wounded. The attacks came days after senior judge Kamil al-Showaili of Iraq's Higher Judicial Council was assassinated in Baghdad.

yesterday signed a $162 billion measure to pay for war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the rest

of his term and beyond.

- Associated Press