BAGHDAD — At a time when other parts of the Arab world are in turmoil, Iraq is feeling stable enough to begin removing some of the tall concrete blast walls that went up as protection against bombings and insurgents during the height of the war.
Iraqis have seen it before. In 2009 Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki started taking down walls, only to restore them when a series of government buildings were bombed.
But in the past couple of weeks they've been coming down again, starting in Baghdad, and if this time it's for good, traffic jams will ease, trade will pick up and Baghdadis will be rid of an ugly symbol of everything Iraq has gone through since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
"We're delighted with this. At least it will give us a feeling that the security crisis we have lived through is finished," said Qassim Karim, a 50-year-old flour trader, as Iraqi workers loaded uprooted barriers onto flatbed trucks with cranes.
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Iraqis have been creative in dealing with the thousands of gray walls that both protect and blight Baghdad. They've painted them with pretty murals, chipped passageways through them, used them as advertising space.
Standing about as tall as basketball hoops, the walls were put up here and in other cities by American and Iraqi forces to shield markets and buildings from bomb blasts, disrupt insurgents' communications and hinder the movement of car bombs and weapons.
They are the first thing arriving visitors see when they come out of Baghdad International Airport. They encircle almost every government building, military installation and mosque, channeling pedestrians through designated entrances and exits. During the height of the insurgency, whole neighborhoods were walled in.
The walls exacted an economic and social price, and Iraqis now view them with a mixture of grudging gratitude and downright hostility.