In the face of ongoing confrontations between US-Iraqi forces and Shiite militias in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, US forces began work this week on a concrete barrier to protect against militia intrusions. Other neighborhoods with such walls have seen marked improvement in the security situation, though some residents credit anti-Al Qaeda groups, which have been targeted by suicide bombers this week.
The New York Times reports that US forces hope that the huge concrete wall will slow the southward spread of militia fighters from the heart of the heavily Shiite neighborhood, which has been a combat zone for the past several weeks as US and Iraqi forces fight members of Moqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army.
US forces hope that the Iraqi government will be able to restore basic utilities such as water, electricity, and garbage collection to the neighborhood if the wall fulfills its purpose. The Times notes that the US has built other such walls in Baghdad, including around the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah last April, and while initially controversial, they have met with some success.
French international news channel France 24 reported last month that life for civilians in Adhamiyah has indeed improved from a year ago, according to one of France 24's civilian-journalist "observers." But the anonymous civilian journalist credits a different US initiative: anti-Al Qaeda "sahwas," or Awakening Councils – Sunnis united against Al Qaeda. He writes that where in March 2007 the streets of Adhamiyah were bullet-riddled and empty, security has improved so much that just a few weeks ago the neighborhood was holding public religious celebrations and people were freely moving about.
The Christian Science Monitor reports, however, that members of the Awakening Councils have become targets this week, indicating that Al Qaeda in Iraq, though weakened, is still a security threat. Most noteworthily, a suicide bomber killed at least 50 people at a funeral Thursday for two brothers who had joined the council in Albu Mohammed, 90 miles north of Baghdad. Many of the mourners were believed to be sympathetic to anti-Al Qaeda groups.
This week's suicide bombings in Iraq are only the latest in what has become a global trend. The Washington Post reports that 2007 marked a 25-year high in suicide attacks, with 658 around the world – including 542 in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Post notes that intelligence officials say that at least two-thirds of all suicide bombings since 1983 have targeted American policy goals.