US builds wall around Green Zone


Richard Moore

How better to characterize a failed occupation? Not even the capital city 
pacified! The Iraqis seem to be very courageous in defending their homeland from


Original source URL:

In Baghdad, U.S. troops build wall to curb violence

But residents aren't happy with the barrier cutting of a Sunni district from 
surrounding Shiite areas.

By Edmund Sanders, Times Staff Writer
April 20, 2007

12:03 AM PDT, April 21, 2007

BAGHDAD ‹ A U.S. military brigade is constructing a 3-mile-long concrete wall to
cut off one of the capital's most restive Sunni Arab districts from the Shiite 
Muslim neighborhoods that surround it, raising concern about the further 
Balkanization of Iraq's most populous and violent city.

U.S. commanders in northern Baghdad said the 12-foot-high barrier would make it 
more difficult for suicide bombers to strike and for death squads and militia 
fighters from sectarian factions to attack one another and then slip back to 
their home turf. Construction began April 10 and is expected to be completed by 
the end of the month.

Although Baghdad is replete with blast walls, checkpoints and other temporary 
barriers, including a massive wall around the Green Zone, the barrier being 
constructed in Adhamiya would be the first to be based in essence on sectarian 

A largely Sunni district, Adhamiya is one of Baghdad's trouble spots, avoided 
not only by Shiites, but Sunni outsiders as well. The area is almost completely 
surrounded by Shiite-dominated districts such as Shamasiya and Gurayaat.

The ambitious project is a sign of how far the U.S. military will go to end the 
bloodshed in Iraq. But U.S. officials denied that it was a central tactic of the
U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown launched Feb. 13.

"We defer to commanders on the ground, but dividing up the entire city with 
barriers is not part of the plan," U.S. military spokesman Army Lt. Col. 
Christopher Garver said Thursday.

News of the construction was first reported Thursday by the Stars and Stripes 

Shiite and Sunni Arabs living in the shadow of the barrier were united in their 
contempt for the imposing new structure.

"Are they trying to divide us into different sectarian cantons?" said a Sunni 
drugstore owner in Adhamiya, who would identify himself only as Abu Ahmed, 44. 
"This will deepen the sectarian strife and only serve to abort efforts aimed at 

Some of Ahmed's customers come from Shiite or mixed neighborhoods that are now 
cut off by large barriers along a main highway. Customers and others seeking to 
cross into the Sunni district must park their cars outside Adhamiya, walk 
through a narrow passage in the wall and take taxis on the other side.

Several residents interviewed likened the project to the massive barriers built 
by Israel around some Palestinian zones.

"Are we in the West Bank?" asked Abu Qusay, 48, a pharmacist who said that he 
wouldn't be able to get to his favorite kebab restaurant in Adhamiya.

Residents complained that Baghdad already has been dissected by hundreds of 
barriers that cause daily traffic snarls.

Some predicted the new wall would become a target of militants on both sides. 
Last week, construction crews came under small-arms fire, military officials 

"I feel this is the beginning of a pattern of what the whole of Iraq is going to
look like, divided by sectarian and racial criteria," Abu Marwan, 50, a Shiite 
pharmacist, said.

Marwan lives in a mostly Shiite area adjoining the wall, but works in Adhamiya. 
Since the wall was begun, he has had to walk to work rather than drive.

Najim Sadoon, 51, was worried that he would lose customers at his housewares 
store. "This closure of the street will have severe economic hardships," he 
said. "Transportation fees will increase. Customers who used to come here in 
their cars will now prefer to go to other places."

Majid Fadhil, 43, a Shiite police commissioner in a neighborhood north of the 
wall, said flatly, "This fence is not going to work."

So far, the barriers have cut off streets and sidewalks, avoiding homes and 
backyards, residents said.

Pentagon officials first broached the idea of creating "gated communities" in 
Baghdad this year.

But more recently, military officials have emphasized political negotiation as 
well as increased troop presence as a way to stem sectarian conflict.

On a tour of the Middle East this week, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates 
repeatedly struck chords of unity and reconciliation. He is expected to meet 
with sectarian leaders and government officials in Baghdad today.

The construction in Adhamiya is not the first time U.S. military planners have 
attempted to isolate hostile regions. In 2005, U.S. troops tried to surround the
Sunni-dominated city of Samarra with earthen berms to prevent insurgents from 
entering and leaving the city. A similar strategy was deployed in Tall Afar and 
Fallouja. Experiments with less extensive walls and trenches also have been 
attempted in Baghdad and Kirkuk.

The latest project is the work of the 407th Brigade Support Battalion, part of 
the 82nd Airborne Division, based in north Baghdad's Camp Taji. Since April 10, 
soldiers have ventured out almost nightly after curfew, overseeing installation 
of the 14,000-pound wall segments, using giant construction cranes and employing
Iraqi crews, said Army Sgt. Michael Pryor, a public affairs specialist for the 

Soldiers have dubbed the project the "The Great Wall of Adhamiya." Commanders in
the 82nd Airborne could not be reached for comment Thursday. In a press release 
Tuesday, military officials said the project was intended to protect citizens on
both sides.

The wall is "on a fault line of Sunni and Shia, and the idea is to curb some of 
the self-sustaining violence by controlling who has access to the 
neighborhoods," Army Capt. Marc Sanborn, brigade engineer for the project, said 
in the release. He said the concept was closer to an exclusive gated community 
in the United States than to China's Great Wall.

In an e-mail, Pryor said it was too soon to judge how residents would respond.

"Bear in mind that the wall is an ongoing project," Pryor wrote. "We're not 
completely sure how the population feels either way."


A special correspondent in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times

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