Concrete partitions built by U.S. troops helps Baghdad neighborhood rebound
Stars and Stripes March 16, 2008
BAGHDAD — Imagine a charming outside cafe. Customers can pick out a tasty fish swimming in a nearby tank, then have cooks grill it in plain view while they chat over a cup of tea in front of brightly colored murals.
Afterward, they might head over to a brand-new billiards hall for some after-dinner entertainment.
Such visions were once sheer fantasy in the hotly contested Dora area of Baghdad. But projects like these are actually taking off, thanks to the building-sized concrete walls on which those colorful murals are painted.
The U.S. military walled off neighborhoods in the Dora area of Baghdad last summer to much protest from the locals. The area was an important thoroughfare for insurgents carrying bombs and weapons from one area of the city to another.
It was also a flashpoint between the Shiite-dominated Iraqi National Police and Sunni dominated neighborhoods. Residents took potshots at the police, who, in turn, fired indiscriminately into the area.
American commanders hoped the walls could solve both problems. Attackers would no longer be able to simply disappear down one of Dora’s many side streets, free to cause havoc. They’d have to risk being caught at one of the checkpoints.
“Most of the bad guys came from other areas,” Dora resident H. L. Saadi said. “They don’t want to make trouble in their area.”
Controlling movement is a long-standing principal of counter insurgency warfare. In some cases, U.S. commanders have built dirt berms around a city. But dirt berms can’t be built in urban areas. So the military hoists slabs of concrete into place with cranes.
“They may look bad, but they help us win this war,” Lt. Col. Jim Crider, commander of the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, said.
The walls also pulled apart the two sides in the Sunni-Shiite fight, like separating two children fighting in the back seat of a car, said Crider. Residents couldn’t plunk away at police, and the police couldn’t drive along a major road just outside the neighborhood and spray bullets down the streets.
With help from 24-hour patrols and cooperative residents, violence has since plummeted. Insurgents attacked the Americans dozens of times when the Americans arrived in Dora at the beginning of the summer, but the Americans haven’t been successfully attacked since September.
More importantly, Dora residents feel safe. Businesses are returning, people stroll around the streets and children play in newly built parks. Artists have even been hired to paint the plain concrete slabs.
“I can sleep in the night, no problem,” said Sadhi Nasser, the real estate buyer who is building the fish restaurant and billiards hall.
Some residents aren’t happy with the walls, though. One vendor in the Dora market Wednesday confronted Capt. Daryl Carter, a company commander with 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, about the ill effects that he said the walls had on his business.
Others, like Iman Abdul Jabar Achmet, the headmistress at a school in Dora, say they are glad the walls are here but that they’ll be ready for them to go when it’s safe.
“When it’s good, I want to bring the walls to the desert,” she said through an interpreter.
Still, the prevailing sentiment is that the walls have worked and that they need to stay. Some of the residents even worried that the Americans would take the walls with them when they left.
Nasser isn’t worrying much, though. He’s busy turning his cafe vision into a reality, right next to one of the walls that helped it happen.