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Last Updated: Friday, 7 April 2006, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Security fears govern Iraqi lives
By Andrew North
Baghdad correspondent

A man rides past the site of a car bomb blast in Baghdad
Baghdad residents face daily risk
The other day we were filming in central Baghdad. There was the sound of a gunshot nearby.

I looked up and saw a man behind the wheel of a black car, not far away, brandishing a handgun.

There was another car nearby, the driver inside looking shocked. It was clear what had happened. The driver of the black car had just fired a warning shot, deciding the other vehicle was too close.

This was a minor little incident by the standards of Iraq three years on from the US invasion, where shootings and bombings remain a daily occurrence.

But what was most telling about it was the reaction of two policemen who also happened to be nearby and witnessed the whole thing.

Everyone going about their daily business here lives under the shadow of sudden, random violence

They were armed, with Kalashnikov assault rifles, one also had a pistol. But they watched and did nothing.

"Why bother?", seemed to be their reaction. "Best not to get involved." It is hardly surprising with the risks the police face.

We did not stay around to ask them though - there were a series of bursts of gunfire from further up the street. It was time to go.

Shadow of violence

But drive around many parts of the city, and it looks much like any other big Middle Eastern capital. Busy and colourful market streets, thronging with people and traffic.

Yet everyone going about their daily business here lives under the shadow of sudden, random violence.

Children look at the wreckage of a US vehicle in Ramadi
The security situation overshadows everyday life
There is the threat from the massive bombings which get the headlines. Many people, though, are more concerned about smaller, but more frequent incidents.

A common fear is of being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time when US military vehicles are passing.

They carry signs saying "Stay 100 metres back, deadly force authorised". As far as the soldiers are concerned, every passing car is a potential suicide bomber.

So if you see the Americans coming, the rule is simple. Get to the side of the road, as far away as you can. But everyone has stories of people who did not move in time and were shot dead.

'No social life'

Increasingly, many people are just as scared of the growing number of Iraqi security units - which career around the city in pickup trucks, machine guns mounted in the back - shouting and brandishing their weapons at any vehicle they decide is too close.

No-one really knows who they are.

Then there is the risk of being kidnapped - at least 20 Iraqis a day are abducted, usually for ransoms, far more than the number of foreigners taken.

With the risks on the streets and the daily curfew which starts at 8 pm, many people venture out as little as possible.

We have no social life now, one Iraqi friend told me. And the security situation has effectively split some families.

"Some of my relatives, I haven't seen in over a year," another friend told me, "But they live in Baghdad."

It is just too dangerous to risk travelling across town.


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