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Iraqis venture out near Ramadan end

Baghdad, September 17, 2009

Iraqis are venturing out into parks and markets as Ramadan draws to an end, enjoying a sense of greater security after deadly bombings around the beginning of the Muslim fasting month.

'At the start of Ramadan we did not venture out. But last week I was driving and saw families sitting in the park,' said Mohammed Moussa, seated with his wife and two children in a tree-lined park along Abu Nawas street.

'I was so encouraged, I brought my family today,' he said.

He said better policing was evident since two bomb blasts in Baghdad last month that struck near the foreign and finance ministries.

'When there are security forces, we feel safe,' said Moussa, a short distance from where police were inspecting vehicles.

Nisreen Ismail, his wife, agreed.

'I am comfortable seeing my children playing ... I feel safe here,' she said, stretching out a sheet to lay down the dishes of dates, yogurt, juice and drinks she had brought for their picnic.

The twin truck bomb blasts that killed nearly 100 people on Aug. 19 rattled Iraqis' faith in recent security gains and revived fears that the U.S. combat troop withdrawal from city centres in June would reignite insurgent violence.

Many were reluctant to go out as Ramadan started, terrified that the crowds gathering to break their fast would be a magnet for bombers seeking headline-grabbing death tolls, a tactic of Sunni Islamist al Qaeda and other groups in the past.

US troops leaving

But crowds are gathering outside again to break the fast at dusk.

Ramadan, when many Muslims refrain from eating and drinking during the day, has seen spikes in violence in the past. But this Ramadan, which ends within a week, has seen fewer, and less deadly, attacks.

'This is the first time I came out with my family,' said Haider Basem, 'We heard there were no security problems here.'

Abu Nawas street, once famed in Iraq for its nightclubs, fish restaurants and a green park stretching along the eastern banks of the Tigris, has recently been revived by authorities.

War and neglect after the 2003 invasion to oust Saddam left it a ghost street, bereft of people and lined with decaying buildings, their windows smashed or boarded up. Better security in the past 18 months has revived some of its attractions.

Securing Baghdad is a key challenge for the Iraqi government as U.S. combat troops prepare to leave Iraq by August 2010 under orders from President Barack Obama. A bilateral security pact requires all troops to be out by 2012.

'To come here it is a sign that there is peace otherwise we'd stay away,' said Ali Fadhel, holding a kebab. 'We had a bloody Wednesday (August 19), but that has passed now.'

And yet Iraq's fragility was evident as ever. Shortly after Fadhel spoke, on Tuesday, a salvo of mortars or rockets blasted the fortified Green Zone, just on the other side of the river. – Reuters




Tags: Iraq | Baghdad | Ramadan | US troops | bombings |

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