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The blast walls erected throughout Baghdad have been both a curse and a cure: they have helped calm violence in some areas, though many residents say they are an eyesore and a hindrance to everyday life.

Now, throughout the city, the walls are getting makeovers by residents painting murals.

Americans have built miles of concrete blast walls throughout Iraq, hoping to control fighters moving in and out of the cities. Baghdad itself is a warren of cement T-walls that separate Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods. The walls funnel traffic through checkpoints so soldiers, police and security volunteers can more easily spot vehicles carrying bombs and other weapons.

The walls are up to 20 feet high in some areas. While helping stop insurgents, they also lead to gridlock and complaints that neighborhoods now feel like prisons.

In at least one Iraqi city — Hawijah, north of Baghdad — American troops have taken down the walls they built.

Lt. Col. Chris Vanek, commander of the 1st Battalion 87th Infantry Regiment, said last month that "it was a huge gamble" to take down the walls. But it has paid off, with residents and Iraqi security forces saying the city is safe enough without the barriers.

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