Civil Servants Fear More Attacks

Security measures fail to calm government employees in central Baghdad.

Civil Servants Fear More Attacks

Security measures fail to calm government employees in central Baghdad.

Thursday, 21 January, 2010
Government workers in Baghdad say the ever-tighter security precautions around their offices are failing to allay fears of further deadly attacks ahead of March elections.

Recently, insurgents have repeatedly targeted official buildings in central Baghdad. Last month, car bombs killed more than 120 people and injured nearly 500.

In October, bombers struck the justice ministry and the Baghdad provincial council, killing 132 people and wounding more than 500. And in August, over 100 were killed in explosions at the foreign ministry and near the finance ministry. Officials said security forces foiled attacks on the culture ministry and the Baghdad municipal headquarters earlier this month.

The government has increased roadblocks and security checks in the roughly 15-kilometre central Baghdad zone where most ministries and state offices are located.

But civil servants say the heightened security has done little to reassure them.

At the agriculture ministry, three-metre-high blast walls encircle the building and dozens of armed guards screen entrants from sand-bag bunkers. The ministry’s glass doors and windows have recently been laminated to prevent them shattering in a bombing.

Ala Moussa, a ministry employee, said that coming to her office was like entering a prison.

“Every day when we begin our journey to the ministry, the panic of being a bombing target creeps into our souls," Moussa said. "Laminated glass? Do you think that will protect us from bomb attacks? There are no precautions we can take. We can only leave everything up to God."

A co-worker, Atyaf Salah, said she drafted a will after the bombs struck the justice ministry months ago, making her husband promise to take care of their children if she is killed.

The agriculture ministry’s top security official, Major Maher al-Shammari, believes he has done his best to secure the building, but recognises that even these efforts cannot provide absolute protection from the threat of suicide bombing.

“We increased the number of the blast walls and sealed off all gaps leading to the ministry, leaving only an entrance and exit. We increased the scanning devices as well,” said Shammari in his office. He said he would soon block the giant glass window with sand bags.

And Shammari says he also feels targeted. He changes routes to the office constantly and checks his car with a bomb-sniffing dog and a mirror.

Although Mahmoud Ahmed was not in his office at the justice ministry when the building was bombed three months ago, he feels traumatised nonetheless.

"I still worry when I arrive at work, even though we have relocated to a new building,” he said. “I don't think anything will deter militants from targeting government ministries, including the ministry of justice again.”

Another ministry of justice employee, who only wanted to be identified by her first name, Huda, remembers the crowds that came to see the flames and charred bodies.

She says she witnessed thieves taking gold jewellery from young women who had died in the blast. She has not worn gold to work since.

"Since that day I have been overcome with dread whenever I see the building. I don't want to die that way," Huda said.

At the transport ministry, some three km from the agriculture ministry, eight cameras have been installed on the roof to detect the approach of suspicious-looking vehicles.

According to the transport ministry's security chief, Hassan Thwaini, the eight-storey, steel and glass building was constructed with a layer of gel between the outer and inner windows to prevent shattering. However, Thwaini fears that the building's height will make it a target for rocket attacks.

“There is fear among the employees here, but Iraqis in general have learned to live with fear. When things are quiet for a while they forget about bombs and threats," he said.

He feels the government is doing what it can to improve security for ministries and their employees.

“I expect there to be some attacks during the election or before. But what we can do?

All we can do is hope for the best," he said.

Other government workers are less accepting. Sarmad Abdul-Jabbar, who works at the higher education ministry, says the street in which his building is located has been blocked due to bomb threats.

"Yes, security measures are tight, but that doesn't prevent militants targeting us," he said. "Death is all around us, like a shadow."

Khalid al-Ansary and Hadeel Kamil are IWPR-trained journalists in Baghdad.
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