Iraq reopens bombed bridge

27/05/2008 - 19:19

By Ahmed Rasheed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi officials reopened a landmarkBaghdad bridge on Tuesday after it was destroyed by a truckbomb last year, vowing to defeat terrorists and unite a countryravaged by sectarian strife.

Snipers took up positions along the rebuilt Sarafiya bridgeas Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki led the ceremony beneath thestructure.

"We have to mark this day to declare the victory of thegenerous will of Iraq which was not defeated," he told thecrowd of mostly army and police officers.

"A year ago when this bridge was blasted, Iraq was slippinginto the brink of civil war."

The violence has since eased.

The bombing of one of Baghdad's most famous landmarks wasnot only an attack on the city's infrastructure.

Some saw the attack -- one of several on bridges at thetime -- as part of a more sinister plot by insurgents to splitBaghdad into a Shi'ite east bank and a Sunni west bank.

Shootings and bombings killed many Sunnis and Shi'ites onboth sides of the Tigris River and spread panic across mixedneighbourhoods as militias carved up the city.

"The destruction of the bridge was a clear and pronouncedmessage by terrorists to the Iraqis that they want to sabotageIraq, cut roads and bridges and then demolish the country,"Maliki told the gathering.

Baghdad, a city of 7 million, has been religiously mixedfor most of its history since it was founded about 1,200 yearsago by Abbasid Caliph al Mansour.

Its dozen bridges linking the east side with the west wereonce a symbol of Baghdad's diversity, where Shi'ites, SunniArabs, ethnic Kurds and Christians lived together.

Two young boys were in disbelief after Maliki reopened thebridge, built by the British in the 1940s.

"I am so happy. I want to play on the bridge every day,"said Ali, 10, to his friend.

Most of the officials at the event were Shi'ites and theSunni area on the western side of the bridge remained closedoff by two Iraqi army Humvee vehicles.

An elderly man was sceptical the reopening could help healIraqis' sectarian scars anytime soon.

"Everybody is bragging this bridge could reunite Iraqis,but I think they never realised the other end is blocked. Withwhom can we reunite?" said Abu Murtadha, a retired teacher wholives in the mainly Shi'ite al-Autaifiya neighbourhood.

It took 450 engineers, workers and technicians to rebuildthe bridge at a cost of 33 billion Iraqi dinars ($27 million).

Iraqi divers were able to retrieve about 1,000 tonnes ofmetal and cement after the bridge was demolished and use it inreconstruction.

An official date has not been set for motorists to startusing the bridge again.

But Major-General Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for Iraqisecurity forces in Baghdad, said one thing was certain:

"We will never allow trucks to move again over this bridge,we should learn lessons," he said.

(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by David Fogarty)


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