The War Over the Wall

The decision by the U.S. military to build a wall separating two Baghdad neighborhoods is kicking up some dust.

In an effort to cease sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites in Baghdad, the U.S. and Iraqi troops have begun building a three-mile long concrete wall around a Sunni neighborhood in the city — a strategy that is garnering mixed reaction abroad and widespread condemnation in Iraq.

The wall will separate the Adhamiya district of Baghdad, a predominantly Sunni area, from adjacent Shia districts. The U.S. says the wall, which it began constructing on April 10th, will make the neighborhood more secure and lessen violent conflict among Iraqi civilians. Construction of the wall is scheduled to be completed by the end of this month.

Both Iraqi president Jalal Talabani and prime minister Nuri al-Maliki have opposed the new tactic, with Maliki,” stating that the Iraq wall reminded him of “other walls,” an apparent reference to the Berlin Wall in Germany.

While reaction to the wall has been largely negative in Iraq — one resident of Adhamiya told CNN that the wall would make his neighborhood a de facto prison — bloggers in the U.S. and elsewhere have offered varied responses.

Tony of the Blue State argues that the Baghdad wall is nonsensical. Who in their right mind would think a wall would be a good idea?” asked Tony. “The Americans can’t decide whether a fence along the Mexican border is a good idea, and that’s where people are coming in illegally. So Bush decides to build a wall in the capital of country where the citizens aren’t too crazy about us being there in the first place?”

Munaeem, a Pakistani blogger, agrees. Accodring to Munaeem, a wall separating ethnic groups is incompatible with efforts to establish a unified Iraqi democracy. “The US tactic of building concrete walls allegedly to divide Baghdad’s Sunnis from Shiites raised questions about America’s political priorities in Iraq, as well as the sincerity of its declared commitment to the country’s territorial unity,” said Munaeem. “The raising of walls in the Iraqi capital did not bode well for security and stability, but was merely an attempt to create a false sense of safety. In my view, the erection of Baghdad’s wall will endanger Iraqi reconciliation because it effectively threatens Iraq’s social fabric.”

In an editorial in the Los Angeles Times published Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the multinational corps in Baghdad, said that the wall is not an attempt to divide Iraqi. “Let me be very clear about this: These barriers are certainly not aimed at segregating different communities from each other,” Odierno wrote. “Rather, they are being put up to protect the Iraqi population by hindering the ability of terrorists to carry out the car bombings and suicide attacks that are taking the lives of innocent civilians.”

Omar Fadhil of Pajamas Media also thinks that the new strategy is a good one. “First and foremost, I don’t know why “The Wall” is becoming such an issue now. Work to construct similar walls started weeks ago in the Amiriya and Ghazaliyah districts. The “news” went utterly unnoticed then,” said Fadhil. “From a tactical point of view these walls can be very useful in reducing the levels of violence in targeted areas. Militants will have to stay in their home areas to avoid passing through the controlled gates. This reduces their ability to transport weapons and munitions for storage or operations in other districts. Failing that they will have to relocate to a district where it would be easier for them to operate. In either case the capacity of the militants to sustain their current level of operations would be impaired.”

But Scott Ritter of Truth Dig argues that walls like the ones being built in Iraq do not uphold the values that America and other nations stand for. “Walls, ideological or physical, on the ground or in space, do not, as Reagan noted, facilitate the cause of liberty and freedom. They restrict it,” said Ritter. “By walling in the Iraqi citizens of Baghdad, by walling out the immigrants who seek solace within our borders and by partitioning off Europe from Iran and Russia, the Bush administration has become that which America once renounced. Mr. Bush, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the United States and the world, if you seek liberalization, then tear down these walls!”

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Satta Sarmah is a CJR intern.