Monday, April 23, 2007

The Psychology of Walls

The Prime Minister of Iraq and the US Pentagon appear to be on opposite sides of the wall proposed by our military to secure certain neighborhoods in Bagdhad. From today's NY Times:

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki said Sunday that he was ordering a halt to construction of a controversial wall that would block a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad from other areas, saying it reminded people of “other walls.”

The announcement, which he made in Cairo while on a state visit, appeared intended to allay mounting criticism from both Sunni Arab and Shiite parties about the project. ...

Mr. Maliki did not specify in his remarks what other walls he referred to. However, the separation barrier in the West Bank being erected by Israel, which Israel says is for protection but greatly angers Palestinians, is a particularly delicate issue among Arabs.

Under an agreement the US has with the Iraqi government, the Prime Minister actually has the last say on the issue, but the US military hasn't exactly rushed to change its plans for the wall.

A spokesman for the American military, Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, said the military would remain “in a dialogue” with the Iraqi government about how best to protect citizens. The military did not say whether the wall’s construction would be halted. ...

The military does not have a new strategy of building walls or creating “gated communities,” the spokesman, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, said in a written statement. He described it as a tactic being used in only a handful of neighborhoods and not an effort to divide the city, much less the country.

However, American military officials said last week in a statement that the Adhamiya wall was “one of the centerpieces of a new strategy.” They also said that the wall was aimed at separating Sunni Arabs in Adhamiya from Shiites to the east.

Adhamiya has been one of the most troubled and troublesome neighborhoods in Baghdad, which was the reason it was selected for the proposed edifice by the US military. Mortar attacks and sectarian violence are a daily occurance for the area. Even so, the Iraqi government (both Sunni and Shi'a members) has made it clear that the wall is an inappropriate response to the security problem, and rightfully so. Walls send the wrong message.

Opposition to the wall has gathered steam since the news release was issued, and on Sunday, Sunni Arab and Shiite groups sharply criticized the idea. The Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party and the Shiite group linked to the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr both announced that they opposed dividing Baghdad by sect. In sharp statements, they said the wall would increase sectarian hatred and fuel efforts to partition the country. [Emphasis added]

It's impossible to fault the logic of the Iraqis in this case, especially when the two main groups actually agree on something. Unfortunately, that hasn't stopped the US in the past. It will be interesting to see if the construction stops and a new strategy is put into place.

I'm not optimistic.



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