Baghdad Years-Old Curfew Ends Amid Hope and Fear

Baghdad Years-Old Curfew Ends Amid Hope and FearBaghdad Years-Old Curfew Ends Amid Hope and Fear

Iraq's years-old nightly curfew was raised on Sunday in a bid by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to ease restrictions on daily life despite persistent violence plaguing the country.

Doing away with the curfew -- which most recently was in effect from midnight to 5:00 am -- ends a longstanding policy aimed at curbing violence in the capital by limiting movement at night.

The curfew, in place since the aftermath of the US-led invasion of 2003, did little to curb the deadly bombings that plague the capital, which are carried out during the day or early evening with the aim of causing maximum casualties, AFP said in a report.

The hours the curfew has been in force have varied over the years, and it has been lifted completely before only to be reinstated again.

Illustrating the persistent danger of violence in Baghdad, bombings in the capital killed at least 40 people and wounded more than 70 on Saturday.

The decision to lift the curfew comes as Iraqi forces battle to regain ground from the Islamic State militant group, which spearheaded an offensive that overran large areas north and west of Baghdad last June.

Abadi ordered the move this week, a decision his office said was taken so there would "be normal life as much as possible, despite the existence of a state of war."

Iraqi officials repeatedly have assured residents that the capital is secure, despite militants routinely attacking Baghdad's Shiite-majority neighborhoods.

Iraqis Revel

Following the decision to lift the curfew, Iraqis ventured out on to the streets flying flags and honking car horns.

"Before, we felt like we were in prison," said cafe owner Faez Abdulillah Ahmed, speaking to AFP. "We were restricted." Shop owner Marwan Hashem added, "We were waiting for this decision for years."

But the milestone came on a day of stunning violence in Baghdad, leaving many other Iraqis in no mood to celebrate, and broad sections of the city quiet after midnight, as if clinging to old routines.

Dhia Abdullah, a citizen of Baghdad, said he and his neighbors had become numb to all the bombings. When the latest one occurred, about 11 a.m. local time, he did not even bother to leave his home.

The lifting of the curfew also did not give him any confidence. “We don’t want it, as long as security is shaky,” he said, speaking of shadowy militant sleeper cells.

For many young people, though, the sense of joy was irrepressible, with the night suddenly available to socialize or to drive. “You always had to be on time,” said Mohamed Wissam, 20, an English major at Baghdad University. Asked what he would do with his nights, he replied. “Anything I want.”

Abadi also imposed new restrictions on weapons, banning armed people from several neighborhoods. He removed checkpoints on some roads and ordered government ministers to reduce the size of their security convoys, all to ease the capital’s traffic.

There had been recent signs that the threats to Baghdad were subsiding, especially those posed by IS militants who took over parts of northern Iraq last summer.

As the government strengthened its security presence in the capital to repel an offensive by the militants, there were fewer of the daily bombings that had become a hallmark of life here, residents said.