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Baghdad: Cementing the Divide
The Americans are reported to be puzzled as to why Sunnis in their highly exposed enclave of Adhamiyah in Shiite-dominated east Baghdad should be protesting so angrily about US troops building a five-mile concrete “protective” wall around their community. The Americans’ confusion and their evident determination to press ahead with the project despite local opposition is yet more depressing evidence of how little they understand the country that George Bush invaded four years ago.
The US military believes that the heavily guarded enclave will not only protect the inhabitants of Adhamiyah from Shiite militia death squads but will also stop Sunni insurgents from using the district as a staging post for bomb attacks against Shiite targets. In Washington there are already suggestions that Sunni opposition to the wall is motivated by concern at the loss of a haven for terror attacks. There is also mystification why the people of Adhamiyah are not grateful for the 12-foot high concrete wall that is being thrown up around them.
Both assumptions ignore the fundamental fact that the people of Adhamiyah regard themselves first and foremost as Baghdadis, not as Sunnis. For emotional as well as commercial reasons they feel outraged that — without the slightest consultation — they are being cut off from their fellow citizens. Their part of town is effectively being turned into a ghetto in and out of which their own movements, and those of their friends and relatives from other parts of town, will be controlled by heavily fortified security posts. Creating such a concrete enclave is, in addition, the antithesis of everything the Bush administration claims to be trying to achieve in Iraq. This very week, Washington was pressing the Maliki government to speed up the process of national reconciliation. How then does the US military imagine Sunni residents of Adhamiyah will have any sort of relationship with their Shiite neighbors even a block away on the other side of the wall? How will Sunnis and Shiites now mix in the cafes, barber shops and stores that until now they have shared as fellow Baghdadis and Iraqis ?
If the good folk of Adhamiyah, really believed that this wall was going to make their lives safer and therefore better, why would they oppose it so vigorously? Could it be that they have already figured out something the Americans evidently have not — that the Shiite militias still have the no less destructive option of mortaring the Adhamiyah ghetto? And how long will it be before truck bombs start to tear the wall apart?