Maliki Orders US to Halt Construction of Baghdad Wall

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered the US military in Baghdad to stop construction of a controversial wall being built around the Sunni area of Adhamiya.

“I oppose the building of the wall and its construction will stop,” Mr al-Maliki told reporters in Cairo on Sunday during a joint news conference with the secretary-general of the Arab League. “There are other methods to protect neighborhoods, but I should point out that the goal was not to separate, but to protect.”

He added that “this wall reminds us of other walls that we reject, so I’ve ordered it to stop and to find other means of protection for the neighborhoods.” Mr al-Maliki did not elaborate on this statement, yet it is believed to be a reference to the West Bank wall which separates Israelis from Palestinians.

The Adhamiya wall has caused outrage in Baghdad, with the US accused of commencing construction without consulting the local community. Residents of Adhamiya are expected to hold a major protest on Monday.

Opponents say the wall – intended to separate Sunni and Shia communities in an effort to quell sectarian violence – will only serve to further entrench the bitter sectarian divisions within Iraqi society.

Many view the wall as the surest sign yet that President Bush’s troop surge has failed to restore order in Iraq. Abu Moamer, a Sunni professor of international relations, told The Times that the wall plan “reflects the failure of the American and Iraqi governments and [their] inability to restore lost security and to establish the rule of law on the streets. Instead of one mixed Iraqi society, it will be two societies, Shia and Sunni.”

The wall strategy has also fuelled fears that Iraq is in the process of being partitioned along sectarian lines. “The government had a hand in the sectarian conflict from the start. I used to think the US was stupid, but now I see that it was a plan to divide first Baghdad, then Iraq,” said Ali Naim, an engineer who lives in Adhamiya.

Local residents fear the district will be turned into a virtual prison. Checkpoints would control who enters and leaves the area, and one local resident fumed that “we will spend half the day leaving and the other half coming back in”.

The US military and Iraqi forces have already built a number of cement walls around marketplaces in Baghdad as well as around towns such as Samarra, Fallujah and Tel Afar in an attempt to prevent attacks. Brief periods of reduced violence were followed by the inevitable return of deadly attacks. Residents have also come to deeply resent the restriction on their movements, and the need to have their fingerprints taken and their retinas scanned whenever they are allowed to enter and leave the towns.

Given the level of outrage in Adhamiya, the US may find itself with little choice but to heed Mr Maliki’s demand and halt construction of the wall. US military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver would not be drawn on this directly, but told the Associated Press, “We will coordinate with the Iraqi government and Iraqi commanders in order to establish effective, appropriate security measures.”

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