Baghdad's Sunni/Shiite security wall
The US military hopes its barrier will prevent deadly attacks. Iraqis worry it will worsen economic, sectarian problems.
The US military is building a three-mile-long wall around Baghdad's Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah in order to isolated it from the surrounding Shiite areas, and prevent sectarian attacks.Skip to next paragraph
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Stars and Stripes, a newspaper published for the US military community serving abroad, reported Thursday that according to a military press release, personnel began construction on the wall on April 10, and will continue work "almost nightly" until it is complete.
"The area the wall will protect is the largest predominately Sunni neighborhood in East Baghdad. Majority-Shiite neighborhoods surround it on three sides. Like other religiously divided regions in the city, the area has been trapped in a spiral of sectarian violence and retaliation," according to the release.
In January, when the new Baghdad security plan and troop "surge" were announced, the "gated community" concept was reported by several news agencies as one tactic to be used.
Stars and Stripes notes, however, that Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the top spokesman for coalition forces in Iraq, said Wednesday that he was unaware of construction of the wall, and said that such a tactic is not a policy of the Baghdad security plan. "We have no intent to build gated communities in Baghdad," he said. "Our goal is to unify Baghdad, not subdivide it into separate [enclaves]."
The Los Angeles Times indicates that the plan, which it notes is "the first [barrier in Baghdad] to be based in essence on sectarian considerations," is a local decision made by US military operating in the neighborhood.
"We defer to commanders on the ground, but dividing up the entire city with barriers is not part of the plan," U.S. military spokesman Army Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said Thursday.
The Times writes that US commanders say the wall is meant to prevent suicide bombers and death squads from launching attacks across sectarian lines. But the Times adds that both Sunnis and Shiites in the affected neighborhood "were united in their contempt for the imposing new structure."
"Are they trying to divide us into different sectarian cantons?" said a Sunni drugstore owner in Adhamiya, who would identify himself only as Abu Ahmed, 44. "This will deepen the sectarian strife and only serve to abort efforts aimed at reconciliation."
Some of Ahmed's customers come from Shiite or mixed neighborhoods that are now cut off by large barriers along a main highway. Customers and others seeking to cross into the Sunni district must park their cars outside Adhamiya, walk through a narrow passage in the wall and take taxis on the other side. ...
"I feel this is the beginning of a pattern of what the whole of Iraq is going to look like, divided by sectarian and racial criteria," Abu Marwan, 50, a Shiite pharmacist, said.
The Associated Press reports, however, that some Sunnis approve of the plan, though they fear it will deepen the city's sectarian divides.
As work continued Friday, the day of worship in mostly Muslim Iraq, several Sunnis living in Azamiyah welcomed the effort to improve their security, but said the wall was another sign of the deep hostility between Sunnis and Shiites.
"It is good from one hand to curb violence and have control of terrorists. But it's bad on the other hand to be separated from others. We should live in one area like brothers, not be separated from one another," said Bashar Abdul Latif, a 45-year-old teacher.
"I don't think this wall will solve the city's serious security problems," said Ahmed Abdul-Sattar, 35, a government worker. "It will only increase the separation between our people, which has been made so much worse by the war."