BAGHDAD — Iraqi authorities have started removing some of the security checkpoints in Baghdad in a bid to ease traffic in the country's capital with a population of about 6 million people, a senior military commander said Tuesday.
The development appears to reflect the government's confidence in its ability to secure Baghdad — even as it wages a weeks-long offensive to take back Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, from the Islamic State group.
Baghdad has seen some attacks since the Mosul operation started on October 17, likely IS attempts to divert attention from the fighting.
More than 25 checkpoints and 85 patrols were removed on Tuesday from Baghdad's eastern side of Rasafa, according to Maj. Gen. Jalil al-Rubaie, who added that more will soon be in the city's western side.
Hundreds of much-criticized checkpoints have for years dotted Baghdad as authorities struggled to establish security. Criticism escalated after the July 3 massive suicide bombing that killed almost 300 people, the deadliest single attack in the Iraqi capital in 13 years of war. That attack forced the government to ban the use of a bogus hand-held bogus device supposed to detect bombs at checkpoints.
The removal of checkpoints brought relief to some residents, but didn't alleviate their worries.
"I feel happy and comfortable," said Salam Hassan, a 35-year old employee at the Higher Education from the capital's eastern New Baghdad neighborhood. "We want a beautiful Baghdad without heavy military presence, but what are the alternatives?" said Hassan, adding that there should be new plans and more intelligence efforts.
Haider Fadhil didn't welcome the move.
"I think it's better to keep the checkpoints despite their shortcomings," said Fadhil, a 28-year old owner of a kiosk in Baghdad's western Amil neighborhood. "The move will benefit the armed groups, the gangs and the terrorists to work more freely."
Since Mosul operation started, Iraqi security forces backed by U.S.-led international coalition have managed to clear only about a quarter of the city as they have struggled to advance in the face of heavy resistance from IS militants in neighborhoods still populated by civilians.
Associated Press writer Murtada Faraj contributed to this report.