Sunday, June 27, 2010

Baghdad's blast walls

(A version of this post appeared on the New York Times AT WAR blog on June 11, 2010.)

Baghdad's blast walls are a blank canvas. They reflect Iraqis' shared history--both proud and painful facts of life here in the capital. The walls document how life is, as well as how people would like it to be.

Most of the blast walls, free-standing grey concrete structures lining main streets and the Green Zone, are ugly, bare and foreboding--daily reminders of war. Last August, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered the walls removed from Baghdad's streets. Days later, a double truck-bomb at the Finance and Foreign Ministries killed at least 95 people, and the plan to remove the walls was scrapped.

It is impossible not to notice the walls, and the paintings and markings on them become like landmarks.

Artists have painted some of the walls with reminders of things Iraqis have in common--ancient Mesopotamian history, religious symbols, portraits and patriotic slogans. Pedestrian, spray-painted graffiti occasionally adorns the walls. Faded and peeling campaign posters from Iraq's 2009 election are still glued in place.

The walls also record bomb blasts. Pockmarked with shrapnel holes or blackened with soot, these sections remind us why the walls exist in the first place.

Graffiti, Qadisiya neighborhood.

A boy squeezes through a crack in Sadr City's blast walls.

An artist painted some of Iraq's ancient artifacts, like this Sumerian statue, on the outside of the French Cultural Center blast walls in Abu Nawass.

Painting of an Iraqi soldier with an RPG outside a military camp. The walls were put together backwards, causing the eagle to miss part of his tail.

A veiled woman, outside an Iraqi politician's residence on Zeitoun Street.

A map of Iraq with the words "Paradise, our homeland" stands on a blast wall outside the destroyed Ministry of Justice building on Haifa Street. A van packed with explosives was detonated outside the ministry on Oct. 25, 2009, in one of the worst days of bombings in the capital in the past year. As many as 30 children were killed in the blast, which destroyed the ministry's two day care centers.

Workers pick up trash in front of a painting of a man fishing along the banks of a river, Sadr City.

A blast wall is splattered with blood where a bomb detonated outside the Ishtar Sheraton Hotel on Jan. 25, 2010. At least 36 people were killed in a string of suicide bombings at the Sheraton, Babylon and Hamra Hotels.

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