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Security Crackdown Under Way in Baghdad

By Carolyn E. Price     Feb 7, 2007 in World
Long awaited "surge" begins ... now Bush can see if his latest plan will succeed.
US official confirmed today that the new security operation was underway. Baghdad's streets were electric with tension while US armor vehicles partolled through streets and Iraqi armored personnel carriers guarded bridges and major intersections.
Traffic bottlenecks were caused by new checkpoints that were surrounded by barbed-wire and blast barriers US Apache helicopters whipped up the air over parts of the capital where they've never before been seen.
However, gunfire still rang out across the city, and some residents say that they doubt if life will get any better. "Nothing will work, it's too late," said Hashem al-Moussawi, a resident of the Sadr City Shiite enclave. Hashem was was badly wounded in a bombing last December.
A US Marine transport helicopter crashed northwest of Baghdad, killing all seven on board - the fifth American aircraft lost in Iraq in just over two weeks. An al-Qaida-linked Sunni group has claimed responsibility.
Iraqi police and army soldiers searched cars at random at new checkpoints that had been thrown up overnight. Some of the checkpoints blocked half of the lanes of traffic on the wide streets. Drivers and passengers had to get out and show identity papers.
Iraqi army and police convoys added to the already tense situation by fired rounds into the air above motorists, warning them to make way for passing forces. Security troops were seen driving over traffic medians and into incoming traffic.
A three-vehicle Western security company convoy came under fire near Haifa Street, a Sunni insurgent stronghold just north of the Green Zone. The security men in the armored cars returned fire and exploded green and white smoke bombs to help conceal them. When the smoked cleared, they quickly sped away. An AP reporter saw bodyguards in the convoy cars leaning out the windows and pelting vehicles with water bottles to get them to clear the way.
Four guards at a nearby building that houses a state television station were shot and killed on the rooftop. An official at Iraqiya television said the men were hit by fire from security company personnel escorting foreign visitors to the Justice Ministry across the street.
Only a few shops were open, a reminder of the fear people have of more car and suicide bombings, which have hit Baghdad with regularity in recent weeks.
Lines outside gas stations stretched for more than a mile due to the worst fuel crisis this city has faced in months. Supplies are very low because refining capacity is down. This problem is also compounded by people hoarding gas.
The wail of police and ambulance sirens seemed to never stop as gunfire rang out across the capital. The buzz of low-flying U.S. helicopters and growl of fighter jets was also nonstop above a new crop of government posters and billboards speaking of Baghdad's struggle.
Messages on the billboards:
"Our streets are deserted and our blood is fair game" and another billboard showed a young man weeping because he had not reported suspicious activity to authorities. "I should have done the right thing," and "Be a hero and report suspicious behavior".
In a surprising sign of just how frightened the people in this city are, the streets became nearly deserted well before nightfall. It is being reported that those who have money to spare are stocking up on fuel for generators and on basic foodstuffs like flour, grains and potatoes.
With electricity available only about two hours a day residents are also buying candles and lanterns. The rickety stands of some outdoor food markets, a favorite target for suicide bombers, stood empty.
"We live hand-to-mouth and don't have money to stock up on anything," said Ibrahim Mohammed, a 78-year-old retired engineer from the Azamiya district. The predominantly Sunni area in north Baghdad was likely to be high on the list of targets in the Baghdad security plan. "No one goes to work anymore," Mohammed said.
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said that the much-awaited Baghdad security operation was finally under way. "The implementation of the (Iraqi) prime minister's plan has already begun and will be fully implemented at a later date, having all the parts and pieces that he wants," he told a news briefing.
"Sunni and Shiite politicians pretend to work for reconciliation, but they curse each other when the news cameras are gone," said al-Moussawi, who was hospitalized for two months with severe wounds to his chest, right arm and leg.
The main entrance to the Sadr City now has four checkpoints manned by Iraqi police and army troops. They are backed up by armored personnel carriers mounted with large caliber guns. Hundreds have been killed in Sadr City in suicide bombings and mortar attacks in recent months.
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