Iraq-war aftermath

BAGHDAD, April 3 (Yonhap) -- After enduring over three decades of war, Iraqis continue to be haunted by the legacy of combat violence that seemingly leaves the country in a perpetual state of war.

The last of the three wars that the Muslim country had been through since 1980 -- the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War -- ended in 2011. But a local resident who spoke to Yonhap News Agency at Baghdad International Airport claims that an air of conflict has persisted despite the war coming to an end.

The state of security in the country has, in fact, been notorious among travelers, making it impossible to obtain a visa without hiring a private security guard -- the cost of which can be astronomical. The fee for a one-way, 20 km journey from the airport to downtown Baghdad is US$2,000, and a further $3,000 is required to travel within the city. For a three-day trip, that amounts to nearly $7,000.

The highway that connects the airport to downtown Baghdad, furthermore, is known among visitors as "the road of death" due to the high frequency of terrorist attacks on U.S. army and foreign officials. Until two years ago, these highways were decorated with three-meter high walls that protected against bomb attacks, also known as T-Walls.

Foreign delegations must go through nearly a dozen security checkpoints in the short distance that separate the airport from Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. A throng of cars awaiting inspection before each checkpoint with hoods and trunks wide open is a regular scene around the city.

Inside the exclusive Green Zone are key government offices and foreign embassies. A special permit is required to enter the zone, and admission is strictly prohibited between midnight and 6 a.m.

The number of checkpoints, however, is not the only sign of poor security conditions. Suicide bomb attacks and shootings are a daily occurrence. Even on Sunday, when the South Korean delegation to the South Korea-Iraq Economic Cooperation Forum held on Monday arrived in the city, four police officers and soldiers were killed in the northern and western parts of Baghdad.

Tensions have also heightened between Sunnis and Shiites since the U.S. army left the country in late 2011, with the militant group Al Qaeda vowing to launch a fresh round attacks to retrieve its lost territory.

Local experts cite the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites as the single biggest challenge facing the Iraqi security situation. Ju Jung-cheol, a minister at the South Korean embassy in Iraq, said religious struggles were what spurred political strife -- a turnaround from the past when political conflicts were what caused religious ones.

Fortunately, officials say the prevalence of terrorist attacks on foreigners has been declining since the beginning of a U.S. pullout in August 2010, with the T-Walls -- reminders of the country’s war-ridden past -- being removed in late 2011.

The number of victims from bombings has also decreased since its peak in 2006-2007. Noh Gang-ho, a managing director at SK Energy Co. who regularly visits the country, said although bomb attacks have persisted since 2009, overall security seems to have improved.

Some Iraqi citizens were optimistic as well. The resident at the airport said cross-religious marriages were becoming common, while adding that the government could do more to protect the safety of its citizens rather than engaging in religious battles.

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