Baghdad specialists and citizens have hit out against the US strategy of building walls around Sunni districts that are surrounded by Shia areas. They say such barriers would worsen the lives of thousands of Iraqis and would increase violence.
“When they build barriers, automatically they are assuming the existence of religious and ethnic differences in Iraq, reinforcing the fighting groups’ beliefs,” Jassem al-Rheiri, a sociology professor at Baghdad University, said.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said during a visit to Egypt on Sunday that the construction of such walls, particularly the one in the mainly Sunni Adhamiya district, should be halted by US troops. He had been under pressure from Sunni communities who complained that their neighbourhoods were being turned into ghettoes that would choke off life in their areas.
“I oppose the building of the wall, and its construction will stop. There are other methods to protect neighbourhoods,” al-Maliki told reporters in Egypt. However, it appears his statement has been ignored as locals say the walls continue to be built by US troops.
US officials have said the barriers they began building on 10 April should be finished by the end of April.
Brig. Gen. John Campbell, the US deputy commanding general in Baghdad, said in a press release on Saturday that temporary concrete barrier walls will be built in selected neighbourhoods around Baghdad in an attempt to help protect the Iraqi population from terrorists, adding that protecting people is the primary reason behind the concrete barriers.
|The intent is not to divide the city along sectarian lines. The intent is to provide a more secured neighbourhood for people who live in selected neighbourhoods.|
“The intent is not to divide the city along sectarian lines. The intent is to provide a more secured neighbourhood for people who live in selected neighbourhoods,” Campbell said.
Walls will increase violence
Experts and the local population believe that the building of the barriers, rather than decreasing violence, will increase the division of the country according to sect, and as such delay any peace process.
“The aim of the government should be to make fighting groups aware that we are all one community and that such differences will just bring more destruction to Iraq. But the concrete barriers will just highlight the fact that sectarian differences exist,” al-Rheiri said.
Locals in Adhamiya reacted angrily to the building of the concrete barriers, saying the government was forcibly dividing the population
“Surrounding our neighbourhood with concrete barriers will make it clear that when we’re out of our area we’re going to be in danger. We’re being forced to live inside just one area. Our lives will have to be limited to a few square kilometres of houses and shops,” said Khadija Kubaissy, 52, a resident of Adhamiyah district. “Rather than isolate us, they have to find a logical solution to the violence and not cause more suffering and hostility.”
|US troops allege that such walls will help protect civilians but we believe that they will just help fighters to know who to target and where. The construction [of walls] should stop and the Prime Minister’s decision should be respected.|
Abu Ahmed, who claims to be a spokesman for insurgent group the Islamic Army, said that the construction of concrete barriers would not stop them fighting US troops and those who support them.
“They want to divide the country by sects and also they have this idea that by isolating districts it will make it easier to catch Muslim fighters. The government is deeply wrong because it will just make us stronger,” he said.
Following al-Maliki’s call to stop building the walls, other government members have become more vocal in their opposition to the plan, agreeing with the views of militants.
“US troops allege that such walls will help protect civilians but we believe that they will just help fighters to know who to target and where. The construction [of walls] should stop and the Prime Minister’s decision should be respected,” said Lt. Col. Ala’a Hussein Obadi, senior officer at the Ministry of Interior. “There are many different ways to help improve security and we hope US troops understand the appeal [by al-Maliki].”