While Al-Maliki halts the walling-in of Al-Adhamiyah, other districts are to be sealed off, writes Nermeen Al-Mufti
Suicide attacks in Al-Sadriya, Sadr City, and Al-Kirada claimed over 200 lives in Baghdad last week. Meanwhile, the wall being built around Al-Adhamiyah attracted much comment in the local, Arab and Western media. Contradictory official statements regarding the wall offered further proof that Iraq still lacks a cohesive security strategy, despite the much-vaunted Operation Imposing Law. Concrete walls have been coming up in Baghdad since the security crackdown started over two months ago. Baghdad's inhabitants are now concerned that entire neighbourhoods will end up isolated or divided along sectarian lines.
At first, Al-Adhamiyah's inhabitants thought the concrete blocks were like others erected over the past few years. But when the US media started quipping about the Great Wall of Al-Adhamiyah, concern turned into alarm. US army public relations officer Sergeant Mike Pryor said that the wall was a "central component" of a new strategy to break the cycle of sectarian violence. Pryor said that the construction of the 3.5 metre high wall was still underway. Once the wall is completed, Iraqi-manned checkpoints would be the only way for inhabitants to enter or leave Al-Adhamiyah. According to The Wall Street Journal, other walls are being constructed around the dominantly Sunni Al-Dawra district in southern Baghdad.
Al-Adhamiyah's inhabitants, worried by US media reports, decided to organise a protest march against the wall last Monday. The government reacted by declaring a curfew on that day. Speaking in Cairo, Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki said that he "objected" to the wall and gave orders to halt its construction. But senior Iraqi officers admit that other walls are being planned for Baghdad. Qasem Al-Mousawi, official spokesman for Operation Imposing Law, said that the "encirclement of some turbulent areas would give security forces a better chance of carrying out their duties. Every area that would be encircled would have one entry point and one exit point," he said. Maryim Al-Rayyes, Maliki's advisor on foreign affairs, said the Iraqi government knew about the wall.
The controversy induced by the wall is a reminder that a few months ago, a plan was suggested to dig a moat around Baghdad in order to stop the infiltration of suicide and car bombers. The plan was rigorously attacked and subsequently discarded. But now, Iraqis fear that other areas such as Falluja and Haditha will eventually be declared out of bounds. Several towns are already constantly besieged, such as Yathreb, Al-Ratba and Al-Qaim.
In another development, the Supreme Court has called on parliament to remove the immunity of Adnan Al-Duleimi, head of the Reconciliation Bloc, who stands accused of "terror". Parliamentarian Mohamed Al-Deini scoffed at the idea. "Anyone who dares to speak of the official chaos, the occupation, and the interference of neighbouring countries is automatically labelled a 'terrorist', even if he were a member of parliament."
Al-Deini, who is leaving soon for a visit to the US, told Al-Ahram Weekly that he intends to expose all the mishaps of the occupation. "The Iraqi resistance is not just changing the face of Iraq. It is changing the face of the US administration itself. Public opinion is shifting in the US and around the world. Iraqi resistance is not terror or insurgency, but a legitimate action against occupation."
A source at the Iraqi Defence Ministry said that after Al-Adhamiyah and Al-Dawra other neighbourhoods would be surrounded with walls, including the predominantly Sunni Al-Amiriya, Al-Amel and Al-Adl districts, as well as the predominantly Shia Sadr City.
Although six Katyusha rockets hit Al-Adhamiyah last Saturday, some of its inhabitants voiced concern that the wall would worsen sectarian tensions. Ammar Al-Adhami, an engineer, said that the "government keeps insisting that military action and security plans are the solution. But the opposite is true. The walls in Al-Adhamiyah and other areas prove that the government and occupation forces have failed to bring law and order in Baghdad." The wall may end up separating lifelong neighbours, he pointed out.
Meanwhile, Kirkuk remains a matter of hot contention, with the Kurds insisting that normalisation should proceed according to Article 140 of the constitution. Kurdish parliamentarian Mahmoud Othman warned that the Kurdish bloc would withdraw from the political process unless Article 140 is implemented in full. "Under international law, we have the right to create a Kurdish state," he said. Other Kurdish officials, however, deny any plans to form a separate state. Still, they want the dominantly Turkoman Kirkuk to be officially joined to their areas.