The U.S. government, goaded by Congress, has made many demands of the Iraqi government, and now the Iraqi government, in the person of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has made one of its own. He has demanded that the United States halt construction of a three-mile wall to surround a Sunni neighborhood to protect it from adjacent Shiites.
The enclosure is one of at least 10 planned as part of the nearly 3-month-old security crackdown. U.S. forces call them “gated communities,” but the walls are dreary Jersey barriers and 12-foot-tall cement slabs.
Al-Maliki’s office says the walls will further divide an already bitterly divided nation. The prime minister issued his order while on a tour of surrounding nations, and the confusion surrounding it makes you wonder how much he is in touch with what’s going on in his own capital.
According to the Associated Press, Iraq’s chief military spokesman said that al-Maliki was responding to exaggerated reports and that the barrier-building would continue. However, the U.S. ambassador said the American forces would respect the prime minister’s wishes.
The walls are clearly an inconvenience to residents, who face loss of access to stores and markets, and lengthy detours. The Azamiyah wall will enclose a neighborhood of 15,000 and have only one gate for civilians.
And construction is only the beginning. U.S. forces plan to issue biometric IDs for all the residents, and fingerprint everyone who comes and goes.
The walls do work, at least in the short term. One sergeant told The Washington Post that since construction began on the wall, soldiers no longer find mass dumpings of bodies, “just onesies and twosies.” Residents are said to feel more confident about cooperating with U.S. and Iraqi forces, but still there have been demonstrations.
“There are better ways to protect neighborhoods,” according to the prime minister, without elaboration. If al-Maliki has a better idea, by all means let’s hear it, because nothing else has worked and the walls may be no final answer, either.