Baghdad's Sunni/Shiite security wall
The US military hopes its barrier will prevent deadly attacks. Iraqis worry it will worsen economic, sectarian problems.
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Concern that the wall will heighten tension between Baghdad's Sunnis and Shiites is supported by study of the situation over the years in Belfast, which was riven by "peace lines" - metal and brick walls, some as tall as 30 feet, meant to separate Protestant and Catholic enclaves in order to prevent violence. The Guardian reported in 2002 that a survey of those living along the peace lines found that the segregation of the two groups had grown worse since a 1994 ceasefire.Skip to next paragraph
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Prejudice on both sides was so marked among the 18- to 25-year-olds that 68% had never had a meaningful conversation with anyone from the other community. In all age groups six out of 10 said they had been victims of verbal or physical abuse since the first ceasefire of 1994, and the same number believed that community relations had worsened during the same period. ...
According to the survey, older people were more likely to cross sectarian lines to shop, and to attend health centres and other facilities.
They were less likely to see themselves as potential victims of violence and more inclined to see good in people on the other side. This was mainly because they had memories and contacts in the other communities from before the Troubles erupted in 1968.
Young people were least likely to cross the peace lines. The number of acts of violence was increasing. Although the number of murders had reduced, the number of fist fights and other acts of intimidation or physical attack was rising.
Israel's "security fence," a concrete barrier being built between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank to prevent terrorist attacks, provides evidence of the economic impact of such a barrier. The Christian Science Monitor reported in February 2003 that the West Bank barrier had a "profound impact" in the Palestinian town of Qalqilya.
Agriculture has traditionally acted as an economic shock absorber during hard times, employing people when they lost jobs elsewhere. But wall construction has cut people off from that shock absorber. An estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people have already left Qalqilya in order to escape the stricter Israeli hold on their lives and pocketbooks. The wall comes on top of an isolation initiated by Israeli closures and curfews.
"Qalqilya depends on agriculture, the manpower of its people, and the commercial sector. These three sectors have been hit hard by the [Israeli] siege, and the city has been isolated from the surrounding villages," Governor Malki says. "Now when you bear in mind that villagers from nearby villages can't come to Qalqilya anymore, up to 85 percent of the economy has come to a halt."
But despite the sociological and economic effects of security walls, analysts say they can achieve their stated purpose — to reduce violence. Ben Thein, in a 2004 article for Middle East Quarterly, argues that "there is little doubt that the security barriers work," particularly in the case of Israel where, he notes, suicide attacks "declined 75 percent in the first six months of 2004 compared to an equivalent period in 2003."