Page last updated at 10:58 GMT, Monday, 11 May 2009 11:58 UK

Living with Baghdad's concrete barriers

Concrete barriers in Baghdad

Recent security improvements in Baghdad have led to the removal of some of the concrete barriers erected when the violence was at its worst. Other barriers remain.

Two women - one living in a Shia area and one in a neighbouring Sunni area - tell Huda Jabir from what they think of the concrete blast barriers which still dominate their environment.

Baydaa, 40, living in a Shia area

Putting up the barriers was a positive step. It meant the Iraqi government could bring the violence under control, but it came at a price.

As well as changing the look of the place, it has distorted life in other ways. It's become so difficult to go in and out of the neighbourhood.

The barrier has segregated the two areas. Our districts are now generally known as Shia or Sunni, whereas before they were mixed and were known by their actual names.

Even though some people have painted the barriers pink - they still make us feel like we are in a big jail. Instead of feeling safe when I look at them, I feel depressed.

Going into the Sunni neighbourhood feels like going to another country... we have to say why we want to go and show our ID
When they first went up we felt quite anxious. We saw these things on TV, but we didn't imagine they would happen to us. But gradually they have become our reality.

Going into the Sunni neighbourhood feels like going to another country. There are lots of barriers, checkpoints, police and Sahwa [members of the Sunni Awakening Council]. We have to tell them why we want to go there and we have to show ID. That's why it feels like travelling abroad.

When we complain to local politicians that the barriers make our life difficult, they say they'll be able to remove them if and when security is restored. Every time one goes, we feel things are getting better.

It's easier to visit the other side of the barrier than it used to be, but only during the day, not at night. The last time I went was to vote in parliamentary elections [in January 2009]; we are still registered on the other side.

It didn't feel safe. We had to finish voting quickly and hurry back before it got dark. It used to be quite an affluent area, but now looks run down.

It felt very insecure, being in the Sunni area of my former district. Maybe one day we will get rid of this sense of being a stranger, and be able to move and visit each other like before.

Abir, living in a Sunni area

The barriers have not improved anything; assassinations and explosions still happen in our district regularly. The barriers affect us enormously, but they don't stop the violence.

Pedestrians walk past concrete security barriers in Baghdad
Some of the concrete barriers have been painted pink

They divide people so much: they divide families and neighbourhoods.

We can go into the Shia area more easily than before, but they still have difficulty entering our area.

Our district is stricter. No one crosses over by choice to do something like go shopping. You only go if you have to.

Members of my family work outside our district, so we have to cross the barrier regularly.

Sometimes we have to wait for hours to be able to cross, especially if US soldiers are passing the checkpoint. In the summer, when the heat can reach 50 degrees, it's unbearable.

There aren't so many barriers here on our Sunni side.

Sometimes we make a big detour to get into the Shia areas without having to cross so many barriers. It's safer that way too. There are always snipers in the houses on the edge of districts.

We went to Syria about a year ago, to escape the violence, and we came back six months ago, when we felt things had improved.

Unfortunately we found everything in our house: furniture, jewellery, everything had gone. The area had changed tremendously.

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