IRAQI opposition to the US plan to build a sectarian wall in a Baghdad district hardened yesterday, with street protests taking place in both Sunni and Shi’ite districts.
US and puppet Iraqi forces have been engaged in a large-scale operation to erect security barriers between many areas of Baghdad, and insist this is simply a short term measure to protect residents from bombers and death squads.
But last week, when the US military revealed a plan to surround a Sunni district with a barricade, anger erupted among Baghdadis opposed to what they see as a plot to segregate and partition the capital.
The measure has already generated noisy street protests by hundreds of citizens from Adhamiyah, the Sunni district which is to be enclosed by a ring of checkpoints and six-tonne (14,000 pound) concrete blocks.
Yesterday thousands took part in a march called by Shi’ite leaders in nearby Sadr City.
The head of Sadr’s parliamentary bloc, MP Nassar al-Rubaie said: ‘We not only reject the wall in Adhamiyah, but anywhere in Iraq.
‘We think it’s a first step to build something like the Berlin Wall in order to fragment the sons of the Iraqi people after the occupying forces failed to divide us psychologically.’
Admiral William Fallon, the US commander in the Middle East told reporters yesterday: ‘I would choose the term barrier.
‘These are not walling off neighbourhoods. These are intended to be barriers against suicide bombers to safeguard people.’
But the April 17 US military statement which announced the construction of the controversial wall made clear that it would follow a sectarian faultline.
It said: ‘Sunnis inside the wall can take comfort knowing the added security will prevent gangs of Shi’ite extremists from being able to come into the area and target residents for extortion and murder.
‘But the Shi’ite communities on the other side of the wall will also benefit. When the wall is in place, Sunni terrorists will no longer be able to use the neighbourhood as a staging point for attacks against Shi’ites.’
In Najaf, spokesman Ahmed Shibani read a statement from radical cleric al-Sadr calling for demonstrations.
‘We, the sons of the Iraqi people, will defend Adhamiyah as long as we can, as well as defending the other regions that they want to isolate from us,’ Sadr declared. ‘We will stand hand-in-hand to demonstrate with the people of Adhamiyah.’
Meanwhile, puppet prime minister Maliki has said he is opposed to the wall.
Speaking from Egypt last weekend, he added that ‘its construction is going to stop’.
On Tuesday he said: ‘It must stop and other measures be taken to protect people living in Adhamiyah. We will go back to Baghdad and follow up the issue, God willing.’
However in his absence US and puppet Iraqi commanders have made it clear they intend to proceed.
On Monday, the spokesman for Iraqi forces engaged alongside their US masters in the Baghdad security plan had insisted Maliki had been referring to ‘false reports’ that the wall was 12 metres high.
‘We will continue to construct security barriers in Adhamiyah neighbourhood,’ said Brigadier General Qassim Atta.
Meanwhile, more than 700,000 Iraqis fled their homes amid the sectarian violence that surged after the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in 2006, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq said yesterday.
In its January to March 2007 report on the human rights situation in Iraq, UNAMI said these people were in addition to the 1.2 million displaced before last year’s demolition of the Al-Askari shrine in the town of Samarra.
‘A total of 1.9 million are internally displaced and four million are estimated to be acutely vulnerable due to food insecurity’ it said adding that the worst affected governorates are from central and southern parts of Iraq.