US checkpoints in Iraq: For civilians, the fear of being hit

Regarding the March 7 article "What Iraq's checkpoints are like": Greetings from Baghdad. I'm from Iraq and I met Annia Ciezaldo, the writer of this article, last November on our way to Baghdad. The way she described the situation at the checkpoints is touching and truthful, but it is not what we Iraqis fear.

What we fear is when we are with our family on the road and suddenly out of nowhere an American military convoy appears. You never know what to do: If you stop they may hit you, and if you continue, it is a terrible thing to experience.

Once I was with my family at night in a residential neighborhood and there was a tank that hit us just like that. I thought that we were dead and my mum, a lady in her mid-70s, was speechless!

Thank you, Annia, for your article about life in Baghdad.
Sawsan Al-Sayyab

This is outstanding information; I hope it has been reviewed by checkpoint policymakers. Car bombs and suicide bombs were already becoming commonplace when I left Baghdad's Green Zone in June 2004. They are a real and deadly threat. To me (a civilian), it was common sense that only "bad guys" with a load of C-4 explosives(R) in their trunk rush checkpoints.

This information about how the roads look through the average Iraqi driver's eyes was a horrifying shock to me. Based on my experience working with our soldiers, our soldiers will be horrified as well. Then they will work with Iraqi security forces and Iraqi civilians to develop better security solutions or at least minimize the incidence of further tragic assumptions and miscommunication.
Lila Bonnell
Alexandria, Va.

Art or not, 'The Gates' were great

"The Gates" may or may not be great, but I take issue with Ben Shapiro's contention (" 'The Gates' was not great," March 7) that a work of art must "mean something" in order to be considered art. Mr. Shapiro writes, "The thrill of art used to be the thrill of ... realizing, at last, what the artist was saying and identifying with his message." When, precisely, was that? To view works of art as vehicles for messages is very likely to strip them of whatever it is that gives them interest in the first place.

The problem with evaluating works of art on the basis of their "messages" is that it pushes aside their most important quality, which is that they should somehow excite our aesthetic sense.

I tend to believe that it is entirely possible to love a play or book and still not be able to pin down a particular point of view therein. The waters are a good deal muddier when we take this kind of approach to nontextual works of art such as music, painting, sculpture, or, in this case, "The Gates."
Adam Shaw

Although I was not able to see "The Gates" in person, Mr. Shapiro's opinion article surely got a response from me! As a former elementary school art teacher, a grandmother, and a docent at the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart, Ind., I have seen the tremendous value of joy.

"The Gates" seemed to me a gift of the artists (since they are the ones who financed it, instead of getting a new SUV or whatever) to give the public the sense of joy such as we see when a child is given a balloon. The child does not ask "why?" or require a discovery of meaning - he or she responds to it in his or her own innocent way. Maybe it's the color, the line, shape, movement, or any of the principles of art one might study, but it is a joy to see it dancing in the breeze. Many thanks to Christo and Jeanne-Claude.
Patricia Beitelshees
Elkhart, Ind.

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