Juan Cole on Wall building in Iraq

This is an extract from Juan Cole's site. Another article today claims that one wall is still being constructed in spite of what the premier requested. As Cole notes the premier probably originally agreed to the wall and changed his mind later.

Premier Al-Maliki ask
that the US military halt its construction of a security wall around the Sunni Arab district of Adhamiya. Al-Maliki spoke from Cairo where he is meeting with foreign ministers of Iraq's neighbors.

The mainstream US media will sidestep this point, but al-Maliki pretty explicitly said that the reason he called off the wall building is that he doesn't want his government compared to that of Israel. That is, the Adhamiya wall is being likened in the Arab world to the Apartheid Wall being built by the Israelis in the West Bank. Al-Maliki made the statement in Cairo, and when he referred to the "other walls" he didn't want the one in Adhamiya compared to, he pointed toward Israel. The Western press is bringing up the Berlin Wall as part of his meaning, but the videotape makes it absolutely clear that his referent was Israel's project. On the other hand, Nassar al-Rubaie, a Sadrist member of the Iraqi parliament, did warn that the US is building a series of Berlin Walls in Baghdad.

The politics of the wall points to the ways in which the Israeli-Palestinian issue is absolutely central to the difficulties the United States is having in being accepted in Iraq. Many Iraqis perceive the US presence as just an extension of Israeli occupation of Arabs and Arab land, and routinely refer to US troops as "the Jews."

The Israeli government has grossly mistreated the Palestinian people, the current condition of which is grave. The wall the Israelis are building is built on Palestinian land and has stolen more land from Palestinians and has in some instances run through Palestinian villages, cutting them in two and separating families. The Apartheid Wall has provoked demonstrations.

So being a foreign military force in an Arab country and looking like they are building security walls similar to that of the Israelis just puts the US and its ally, al-Maliki, in a very difficult position.

Not to mention that walling people up is intrinsically unappealing as a governing strategy. Mahmud Osman, a member of parliament in the Kurdistan Alliance and a former member of Paul Bremer's Interim Governing Council, told al-Zaman that the Adhamiya wall is "the peak of failure" for the new security plan and "a violation of human rights." He added that the wall "is a clear sign of the failure of the American and government policy for safeguarding security." Other MPs complained that the policy would create and reinforce sectarian divisions in the capital.

The US military had planned to build 5 such walls around Sunni Arab districts in Baghdad. It is not now clear if any will be built. Another corner of this story is the unpredictability of the political environment for the US military. It is inconceivable that al-Maliki did not earlier sign off on the Adhamiya wall, but then he changed his mind. The US officer corps in Iraq must be fit to be tied.

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