Iraq military official: Barrier will be built
BAGHDAD — The fate of a controversial, concrete barrier under construction in one of Baghdad’s roughest neighborhoods remained uncertain Monday as Iraq’s prime minister ordered the barrier removed because it served as a reminder of “other walls that we reject.”
Less than a day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for the wall’s removal, an Iraqi military spokesman insisted that work would go ahead as scheduled.
The statement from al-Maliki was an apparent reference to the Palestinian wall in Israel’s West Bank — a sore point in the Arab world. Al-Maliki issued his Sunday comments from Cairo, Egypt, as he is currently conducting a regional tour of neighboring countries.
“I’ve ordered it to stop and to find other means of protection for the neighborhoods,” al-Maliki said.
The comments follow several days of heated criticism for the project and charges that military commanders failed to seek adequate input from local residents. Al-Maliki’s comments have further muddied the already-confusing situation.
The barrier, which some U.S. soldiers have jokingly referred to as the “Great Wall of Adhamiyah,” consists of numerous, 12-foot-tall concrete barriers, which would stretch roughly three miles when fully assembled. The barriers are intended to divide Adhamiyah’s primarily Sunni population from surrounding Shiite neighborhoods and funnel traffic between the areas through checkpoints.
“I’m not sure where we are now on how to move forward on this particular issue,” U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said at a press conference Monday. However, Crocker said that he believed the use of barriers to restrict the movement of suicide bombers along Baghdad’s sectarian fault lines “makes good security sense.”
At a news conference Monday, U.S. and Iraqi military spokesmen repeated their assertions that the barrier would be temporary and was aimed at ensuring the safety of both Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods instead of dividing them into separate enclaves.
“It’s a fluid situation,” U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Mark Fox, a coalition spokesman, said of the Adhamiyah project. “The Iraqis are in the lead on this … it’s an Iraqi-approved and -initiated plan.”
As U.S. and Iraqi troops enter the third month of the new Baghdad security plan — a campaign to quell sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims here — Crocker said operatives from al-Qaida were using car and suicide bombers to try to re-ignite sectarian killings.
Since the security plan began roughly 10 weeks ago, sectarian murders have plummeted, but car bombings and other such attacks have spiked.
The U.S. and Iraqi militaries have placed thousands of concrete barriers, coils of razor wire, sand bags and Hesco barriers throughout the city, hoping to head off avenues of approach for suicide bombers intent on attacking local markets. While these other walls have been built quietly, the Adhamiyah project was touted in U.S. military press releases as the centerpiece of a new strategy that involved the creation of “gated communities.”
The announcement sparked confusion and then anger as military representatives scrambled to explain that they were not “walling in” neighborhoods like some sort of social engineering project. They said the plan was struck between local commanders and local residents and that plans for the wall had been distributed to local residents prior to the construction work.
On Monday, Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta, a Baghdad security plan spokesman, said that the issue had been distorted by the media, although it was the U.S. military that issued a lengthy release on the matter earlier in the month.
“Immediately we anticipated the reactions of some weak-minded people to weaken the security plan,” Atta said. “The prime minister has agreed with the authorities to take measures to prevent terrorists from attacking. We are continuing to construct the barriers in Adhamiyah neighborhood and will move them to another neighborhood after.”
Following the news conference, another U.S. military spokesman said that the only thing that appeared to be certain about the project was that it was now under review.
“We’re going to review the plans and determine what’s right for Adhamiyah,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver.
On Monday, The Associated Press reported that “hundreds” of demonstrators in Adhamiyah protested the barrier, some carrying banners that read “separation wall is a big prison for Adhamiyah citizens” and “Adhamiyah children want to see Baghdad without walls.”