Iraq PM Lifts Nighttime Curfew in Baghdad

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Iraqi soldiers patrol the streets in Tahrir Square in central Baghdad on February 05, 2015. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered an end to a years-old nightly curfew in the Iraqi capital. AFP/Ahmed al-Rubaye

Published Thursday, February 5, 2015

Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered an end to a years-old nightly curfew in Baghdad in a bid to ease restrictions on daily life despite persistent violence, officials said Thursday.

Lifting the curfew is a major change to a longstanding policy aimed at curbing violence by limiting movement at night in the capital, which has witnessed a devastating number of suicide bombings since the 2003 US invasion.

Since the invasion, Iraqi authorities have imposed a nighttime curfew which saw several changes over the years, the most stringent one being in 2006 after a major bombing killed more than 150 people. The curfew was then set from 8:00 pm till 6:00 am.

On Friday, at least 12 civilians were killed and 30 wounded when two bombs exploded in central Baghdad, a day after a double suicide attack on a base housing militia groups fighting alongside the government north of Baghdad killed at least six people and wounded 28 others.

While the hardline Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group has not advanced into Baghdad, it holds a ring of towns around the capital and has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in several districts of the city.

In fact, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said the city worst affected by violence was the capital, Baghdad, with 256 civilians killed and 758 wounded. UNAMI said in a statement that violence in Iraq has killed at least 1,375 people, including 790 civilians, in the month of January alone.

"The prime minister ordered that the curfew in the city of Baghdad be completely lifted starting from this Saturday," said Brigadier General Saad Maan, the spokesman for the Baghdad Operations Command.

Abadi wants there "to be normal life as much as possible, despite the existence of a state of war," his spokesman Rafid Jaboori said, referring to the battle against ISIS.

This is "part of the response to terrorism and the war against it," he said.

A statement from Abadi's office said he had also directed that important streets in the capital be opened "to facilitate the movement of citizens," and that the Adhamiyah and Kadhimiyah neighborhoods of north Baghdad be "demilitarized zones."

It did not provide details on which streets would be opened, or on what the plan for the two adjacent neighborhoods — the former mainly Sunni, the latter Shia — entailed.

The army and police checkpoints across Baghdad cause massive traffic jams that are a major source of irritation for Iraqis and often follow lax security procedures that are unlikely to hamper the movement of militants.

The hours the curfew has been in force have varied over the years, but it has most recently lasted from midnight to 5:00 am.

Since ISIS emerged in its current form in 2013, it has captured large swathes of territory in both Syria and Iraq.

It has since declared an Islamic "caliphate" in territory under its control, and gained a reputation for brutality, including executions and torture.

In early August, the Kurds joined the battle against ISIS after the group took control of the country's largest dam and moved within striking distance of Erbil, capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region, making the city a more prominent target for militants.

Despite the successful advances against ISIS, the Iraqi army and pro-government fighters still face major challenges in the battle against the jihadist group, which holds large areas of the country, including the key cities of Mosul, Tikrit and Fallujah.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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