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Baghdad turns into a 'virtual prison' ahead of Arab League summit

Nizar Latif

March 22, 2012

BAGHDAD // Traffic jams are growing longer and tempers shorter as Baghdad goes into near-lockdown ahead of next week's Arab League summit.

Tens of thousands of soldiers and police reinforcements have been brought into the city for the summit and the extra patrols and checkpoints are disrupting normal life. Bitter arguments are breaking out between frustrated commuters and the military and police.

For someone such as Awad Al Temime, the delays can mean a matter of life and death. He is a surgeon at Rahibat hospital. After four hours in his car yesterday morning to barely move two blocks, he gave up and walked to work.

"I have been trying to reach my workplace since 7am and it took me four hours just to drive two main streets," he said angrily. "So I had to park my car far, far away and make it on foot to the hospital.

"It's just crazy, what they are doing. Of course we are with the summit and we stand with the government. But we can't take this.

"I saw thousands of soldiers filling Baghdad's streets and the army and police seem to be going mad, kicking out everyone yelling at everyone. It's just madness."

"I had to delay my work. I missed a critical case at the hospital."

Leaders of the 22-nation Arab League, which has temporarily suspended Syria over its attempt to crush a rebellion against the government of Bashar Al Assad, will meet in the Iraqi capital next week. The Syrian crisis will dominate the agenda.

Al Qaeda has vowed to disrupt the conference and a string of bombings across the country have killed dozens in recent days.

Areas of the city, including leading to the Green Zone where thousands of ordinary Iraqis live, have been closed off.

Husham Al Abideen, a reporter for Iraqi TV, described the city as a virtual prison.

To the Arab League leaders, he pleaded: "Please don't come, you're killing us."

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