Tough getting news out of Baghdad these days. Even the reliable bloggers like Riverbend are flagging, too dispirited to write, and the monitor sites such as Today in Iraq are beset by continuity problems due to the continued shambolic nature of the country four years in. Usually you need to access these sites to really find out anything that’s going in the benighted land, as it has long since faded from the papers.

Today it came roaring back though, with a story from the Red Cross, whose report suggests that life overall in almost all parts of the country is “steadily worsening” despite improvements in security in a few select zones of Baghdad. When asked what would most improve their quality of life, one group of women said it would be nice if the bodies were cleared away so the children didn’t have to walk past them.

The report puts into context news from Robert Fisk in the Independent about General Petreus’s plan to divide Baghdad into a series of walled-off security zones that cannot be crossed without a transit pass.

This will be one of the most significant moves of the war, since it will mark the point at which the Iraqi people as a whole become the official enemy, presumed guilty for merely going about their business.

This strategy of sequestration never works because for every active insurgent there are 10 people who will support him — with safe houses, hiding explosives etc etc — and 50 more who will never shop anyone to the cops (who are all in sectarian militias anyway). Didn’t work in Dublin in 1918, in Palestine in 1947 (where Zionist terrorists called the city’s zones ‘Bevingrads’ after the then-UK foreign secretary) or Saigon in 1970.

Really, it’s just a way of looking busy until the inevitable withdrawal begins. Meanwhile, Raed in the Middle, one of the few bloggers still going, has the March, post-surge, death toll. It’s 2000, 15% higher than February.

Oh, and the Shi’te ministers are about to leave the al-Maliki Government. On the plus side, John McCain’s recent delegation of senators to the city found the market safe enough to buy rugs. On the minus side, they were in armoured vehicles at the time.

Peter Fray

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