"U.S. soldiers are building a three-mile wall to protect a Sunni Arab enclave surrounded by Shiite neighborhoods in a Baghdad area "trapped in a spiral of sectarian violence and retaliation," the military said.
When the wall is finished, the minority Sunni community of Azamiyah, on the eastern side of the Tigris River, will be gated, and traffic control points manned by Iraqi soldiers will be the only entries, the military said.
"Shiites are coming in and hitting Sunnis, and Sunnis are retaliating across the street," said Capt. Scott McLearn, of the U.S. 407th Brigade Support Battalion, which began the project April 10 and is working "almost nightly until the wall is complete," the statement said.
It said the concrete wall, including barriers as tall as 12 feet, "is one of the centerpieces of a new strategy by coalition and Iraqi forces to break the cycle of sectarian violence" in Baghdad. " Yahoo News
"Mahalle," "Mukhtar," "Muhtasib." These are terms in Arabic that one should become familiar with:
"Mahalle" signifies a "quarter" of a pre-modern Islamicate city, functioning as a sub-jurisdiction underneath a city government. (It is one of several Arabic words for that.) They were often walled and had an inner social and business life as well. Such subdivisions of European cities were also common before the renaissance. Within a "mahalle" lived the self-segregated members of ethnic, guild, sectarian and tribal groups. People grouped themselves in that way because they did not trust others outside their own groups. Typically the streets on the outer edges of the "mahalle" were open at first and then were gradually encroached on by building until it was easy to put up a gate and install watchmen. Yes, I know, we have gated communities in the US.
"Mukhtar" denotes the "selectman" of a "mahalle." He is the community leader.
A "muhtasib" was an official of a "mahalle" who supervised the economic activity and markets of a "mahalle."
This kind of organization of Islamicate cities gradually disappeared in most places in the late 19th and 20th Centuries C.E. It disappeared as the colonial powers sought to impose the kind of town planning that they were familiar with and as early independent governments sought to foster a civic life centered on inter-communal loyalty and "national" identity.
Baghdad was a lot like that before 2003. There were still places in the city that were inhabited by all one thing or another but the trend was towards integration in housing and in marriage.
We are successfuly re-medievalizing Baghdad, so it would be a good idea to become familiar with the old terms. They are lurking in the back of the collective mind of the city and will be back. pl
Sir- CNN is doing puff pieces on life in Baghdad. Is there some kind of new world view in the MSM that Iraq is now everybodies long term project or is this something I have missed all along?
This LINK is a humvee ride through Ramadi. This LINK is a ride through Baghdad. Is this what’s to be “gated”? Have the Russians done this to Chechnya? Because thats what this looks like.
Everything comes around, again and again; Concentration Camps, Internment Camps, Resettlement Camps, New Villages, Strategic Hamlets, Mahalle.
The one guarantee is that corporate media will avoid mentioning the Warsaw Ghetto and Iraq in the same program.
The recently blown up Sarafiya bridge was one connection into Adhamiyah which now gets walled off.
It was bombed on the 12th, the wall building started on the 10th.
Like the Colonel I assess the bridge was not blown up by a “truck bomb” but was a ripped by professional demolition job.
Seems even more likely now after we learn of the “gated community” effort …
The only reporter who had a real story on the “gating” so far was Robert Fisk at the Independent. A week ago he wrote 30 of 89 Baghdad districts will get this treatment.
As the Israeli (who helped Petraeus planing this) have learned, walls can’t stop mortars.
The way of killing may change, but that’s about it. The tactic is doomed to fail.
Well, it’s worked so well for the Green Zone, it’s only fair to provide it for everyone else.
The militia’s can now provide security, if not at the gates, then within each quarter, each to themselves. Anyone found within who doesn’t belong can be held hostage or summarily killed. The roads linking them can become a free fire zone and the US’s responsibility. Just like Gaza.
Used to be everyone despised the Berlin Wall. Now, no one blinks when cities are encircled by earth berms.
In only 4 years we’ve been able to undo a century of nation building.
And whatever the Iraqi Army is, it is not a force for national defense. No plans for a force structure that would allow it to repel an incursion of Kuwaitis, much less the Turks or Iranians.
Welcome to Yugoslavia South
Picking up on the Israrli connection, their building of walls has certainly help bring peace and stability to that portion of the ME!
Azamiyah is not the only area in Baghdad that the Bush regime wants cordoned off. At least three others are planned according to the McClatchy news service. Khadra, Ameriyah and Ghaziliyah are all undergoing the building of 12-foot high concrete barriers in Bush’s new Balkanization of Iraq.
It is a bold new experimentation in population control which Bush and his autocratic regime intend to use against Americans, the majority of whom voted to curtail his absolutist powers on November 7, 2006.
This administration has come to the realization that the attempt to democratize the entire Middle East at the end of a gun barrel is a dismal failure. Absent that, his anti-Semitic puppet regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who stood with his entire parliament last summer and denounced Israel while supporting the terrorist group, Hezbollah, is now admitting that they cannot contain the violence by killing more Iraqi civilians so they are building prison walls throughout Baghdad neighborhoods.
American citizens as well as the international community should be especially alarmed now that Bush is nearing the end of his occupancy of the White House because his petulant, reckless behavior is becoming more and more apparent as he sees his powers being directly challenged by an opposition U.S. Congress who are issuing the message given to them by the voters, “Enough is enough!” Now, more combative, more pugnacious and more contemptuous of our U.S. Constitution than ever, Bush is retaliating and sending his own message to the world in this latest look-down of Baghdad by erecting the equivalent of the Berlin Wall around the city.
To paraphrase Ari Fleischer, Bush is warning Americans who speak out to “Watch what they say and watch what they do.” George Orwell in his vision of the near future in his book, 1984, warned against the dangers of a totalitarian government. That totalitarian government and potential police state have emerged and become real under G. W. Bush. Less than two more years and counting.
Thanks, as always, for the historical context. I have not seen a comment yet, however, referring to the “wall” experience that most people in the Arab world will think of when they hear about the wall around Azamiyah. Don’t you think that the Israeli barriers in and through the occupied territory in Palestine/Israel will be the first image that comes to mind in the Arab world?
Col. What is your interpretation of the remarks from Sunnis in the neighborhood of their dislike of the new wall?
Why are some of the inhabitants of the incipient “mahalle” not happy?
They don’t want to be imprisoned. The poor blind fools! pl
Isn’t it time to say that while the US government claims to support the idea of an independent Iraq, it’s actions on the ground prove that this is only empty rhetoric directed at fooling the American people through the corporate media mouthpiece?
The debate should be whether this policy is the result of overwhelming incompetence, or whether it is an evil policy of creating incessantly warring clans and ethnic cleansing which is cloaked in incompetence so that the US military can maintain a long-term presence in the region.
John Robb believes that Baghdad’s evolution in this direction would be infeasible because such utilities as electricity, water, sewage, garbage collection, etc., have created interdependencies which can be and – more importantly – actually are systemically being disrupted by insurgents.
There was a book published recently about China’s Great Wall, in which the author insisted that the Wall wasn’t used during China’s periods of strength, but during weak periods. Witness France’s De Lattre Fortified Line in Indochina, which was supposed to defend Hanoi and the adjacent coastal area. This put the French forces on the defensive, handing the initiative to the Viet Minh–or recognizing that they already had it. Then of course there was that stroke of military genius, the Maginot Line. I hear it’s still very useful–for growing mushrooms.
“It is an axiom of the art of war that the side which stays within its fortifications is beaten.”–Napoleon
“Um Haider, a 54-year-old housewife living on the inside of the barrier, said it was a “weird idea”.
She said: “I’m astonished by the way officials think. Is that reasonable? Protecting al-Adhamiyah by segregating it from adjacent neighbourhoods?
“Erecting concrete walls between neighbourhoods is not a solution to the collapse in security and the rampant violence. If so, Baghdadis would find themselves in a maze of high walls overnight.”
Story with map graphic and photo:
“…Adnan al-Dulaimi, who heads the biggest Sunni bloc in parliament, says it will breed yet more strife.
Some Adhamiya residents have said the wall will make their district a prison.
“The Americans will provoke more trouble with this,” one resident, Arkan Saeed, told the BBC. “They’re telling us the wall is to protect us from the Shia militia and they’re telling the Shia they’re protecting them from us…. This will make the whole district a prison. This is collective punishment on the residents of Adhamiya,” Ahmed al-Dulaimi told the Associated Press news agency”
“Don’t they realize that when the Baghdad neighborhoods become either Sunni or Shiite, they will become even more vulnerable?” said Yassir Ismail, a 34-year-old Sunni resident of Adhamiyah, one of the areas where the U.S. is putting up barriers. “Extremists from both sides — or mercenaries — will have no more qualms. … They will bomb each other to kingdom come.”
Wonder who has the contract on the cement walls? Lot of cement.
Compare with the Brits circa 1920:
“The restoration of peaceful conditions in the territory cost some months of exhausting British military efforts….which included the summoning of of important reinforcements from India, cost hundreds of casualties, great quantitites of military stores, the erection of hundreds of blockhouses and scores of miles of barbed wire fences….”
Stephen Hemsley Longrigg, ‘Iraq, 1900 to 1950. A Political, Social and Economic History (London: Oxford University Press, 1953).
“Absent that, his anti-Semitic puppet regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who stood with his entire parliament last summer and denounced Israel while supporting the terrorist group, Hezbollah”
Sad to see so much propganda drivel. Triviliazes the use of the term ant-semitic. The Lebanese Shiites, chafing under the PLO heavy handedness were actually pro-Israeli until the IDF showed its own brutality. Mischaracterizing resistance movements as “terrorists” is a rhetorical ploy to delegitimitize them. Israelis routinely call Palestinians terrorists even when they engage military targets.
It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Iraki Shiites would be incensed at the massive humanitarian suffering brought on by the stupendous Bush-Olmeret bombing of Lebanon’s civilians and infrastructure in the 2006 Summer War. Millions of dud cluster bombs in the last 48 hours. Ready to explode and amputate children and farmers. Come on- Wake up and smell the coffee!
Three thoughts on walled ghettoes in Baghdad: If the troops guarding the gates are an infiltrated death squad, it would be fatal to visit or work outside the wall. I think the living standards inside will deteriorate.
More fixed targets may mean an increase in Iraqi soldier casualties as happened at the roadblocks during the last Baghdad security campaign.
Finally, are they planning to fill in the basements of buildings adjacent to the wall? The walls could motivate some tunneling for supply and insurgent reasons.
THE WALL in Bagdad–sounds like Warsaw 1930s to me. If I was a Sunni living in walled off areas–and dependent upon the Iraq Army–whewwwwww!
Is this not the adotion of the Strategic Hamlet model to Baghdad hoping for the same level of success?
I doubt if this is that model. The SH model was one of several attempts to adapt counterinsurgency strategy to Vietnam. It was early on when there was nothing on the other side but small scale VC units. On our side there was basically US Special Forces. It worked fairly well and that success probably prompted the large scale intervention of the NVA. This escalation on their side brought in big US units, a period of massive combat in the jungles then ensued followed by a reversion to counterinsurgency on the US side in the CORDS program. pl
I had previously posted the link of this Asia times
interview with Alawi
concerning the breakup of Baghadad into separate enclaves. It is relevant to this discussion.
The end of the state
NIO: To what degree would a highly decentralized federal government in Iraq feed Iraqi concerns – rooted in the colonial era – about outsiders dividing and weakening the state? And if security
were also decentralized, as you have recommended in the past, wouldn’t minorities remain quite vulnerable?
AA: I believe that the Iraqi state that was constructed so laboriously after World War I has come to an end, simply because it has ended up being occupied and has been responsible for great instability in the area and a great deal of domestic violence and oppression. So the state came to an end when the United States invaded the country and broke open, as it were, all the possibilities that Iraq could evolve into the future.
From that premise, the geopolitical unit that was created in the early 1920s had now ended. We now have to come up with a different formulation and we have to deal with the requirements of the major constituent groups as to how they see their role in this state, in this new country, assuming it maintains its geographic and geopolitical boundaries.
From that point of view, it’s very difficult to re-establish a centralized state, given the great deal of fear and hostility that exists between various communities and also given the fact that something like 25% of your population and territory is already effectively outside the control of the central state.
So we have to really reconsider this. I suppose it’s like the United States when it started – there was a great deal of devolution of power to the states and only after a period of time some federal institutions emerged. I think you have to start with that premise.
The various component groups of Iraq now feel far more vulnerable than they had, say, 20 or 30 years ago. They have gone through a very traumatic post-Ba’athist period in the last four years and we have to rebuild and reknit the sinews, as it were, of a unitary society and state. Now, you can’t do that under conditions of great turmoil. So when you refer to the minorities, there are minorities in Iraq outside of the three main blocs, but none of them, I think, are sufficiently large to warrant their own territorial unit. I mean I can’t imagine a unit for, let’s say, the Iraqi Christians or the Turkomans.
So you have to work within decentralized areas. When you devolve power this way, you basically assume, or expect, that security will be provided at the local level. As you try to build up towards a central and federal arrangement, then you have to be prepared to cede part of power to the center. But until all groups are prepared to cede that, the center can’t reimpose its will on the parts.
NIO: And in areas that are multi-ethnic, say Baghdad, Kirkuk, is there anything specific you would propose there?
AA: Well, it’s not a cut-and-dried process. I think you have to start – I mean, Baghdad can be turned into a territory with its own government and its own regional powers over and above that of the federal region. Or maybe Baghdad may be divided into three cities. I mean, it is already. Sadr City itself is probably as big as the rest of Baghdad, just by itself. It may very well warrant that it should be incorporated as a city, in which case the capital, excluding Sadr City, might become part of a workable administrative unit.
So you have to think a little outside the box, but the plan should be towards creating not necessarily homogeneous units, but units that are large enough to be self-sustaining, to have the appropriate administrative and security machinery, and, at the same time, not have so many fault lines that create or exacerbate tensions.
And I think this should be monitored by some kind of international force after – with the United States’ agreement, obviously – after this thing is headed to a transition, to a new situation. ”
Int’l Herald Tribune:
CAIRO, Egypt: Iraq’s prime minister said Sunday that he has ordered a halt to the U.S. construction of a barrier separating a Sunni enclave from surrounding Shiite areas in Baghdad after fierce criticism over the project at home….
He did not elaborate but added “this wall reminds us of other walls,” in an apparent reference to the wall that divided Berlin during the Cold War and Israel’s construction of a barrier in the West Bank to keep out suicide bombers.
The impression I get is that the Iraqi intellectual class (doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc.) were the group which were closest to building a sense of Iraqi nationhood. In spite of Saddam Hussein’s bitter rule, they were able to do this.
Guess who were the first victims of the US invasion and the following turmoil with Paul Bremer’s edicts re de-Baathification? The Iraqi intellectual class. Many of them were kidnapped, killed and held for ransom, and now many of them have fled to neighboring Arab countries, and to Europe.
The working class Shi’ites and Sunnis are now the ones who are killing each other in sectarian fighting along tribal lines.
So how can the American government possibly say that they are fighting to preserve Iraqi sovereignty and nationhood? At the very least, American policies contributed to the fragmentation of Iraq along sectarian lines through pure stupidity and arrogance, and at the worst, they deliberately created the environment for ethnic cleansing and civil war in Iraq.
I’m sorry, there’s just no polite way to say this, but that is the way it looks to me.
I recall reading (or seeing) somewhere that cordoning off the Arab city into tight compartments was one of the keys to the French “victory” in the Battle of Algiers. (I use scare quotes for obvious reasons). It effectively isolated and immobilized the NLF cells, which could then be rolled up using the time-honored techniques of torture and betrayal.
But trying the same tactic in the middle of a civil war — in which the occupying power doesn’t really know who or what it is fighting — seems like a very different kettle of fish.
Maybe the guys in the Pentagon shouldn’t spend so much time watching old French movies.
In a strange way, al-Qaida and the Bush administration have been close allies in the occupation of Iraq.
Both have strived in different ways to destroy the Iraqi urban intellectual class, the single element which has held Iraq together. They have succeeded.
Now they both plan to stay by playing kingmaker roles among the divided factions. To their supporters, they point to the continued presence of al-Qaeda/US as justification for their stay in the country.
Both of them plan to stay in Iraq as long as possible, no matter the cost in Iraqi lives. They have both made this position very clear.
Network analysis in historical contexts
… helping these analysts achieve a wider basis for understanding of similar behaviors in other contexts – free of cultural and other cognitive biases – will remain a challenge.
Thus we are grateful to see the following insightful comment by COL …
Thank you Colonel for an eye opener and an historical perspective. My wife enjoyed you on NPR.
Chris Marlowe – Re your last comment.
Perhaps this may be of interest. From Foreign Affairs, May/June by Bruce Riedel
Summary: By rushing into Iraq instead of finishing off the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Washington has unwittingly helped its enemies: al Qaeda has more bases, more partners, and more followers today than it did on the eve of 9/11. Now the group is working to set up networks in the Middle East and Africa — and may even try to lure the United States into a war with Iran. Washington must focus on attacking al Qaeda’s leaders and ideas and altering the local conditions in which they thrive.
Bruce Riedel is a Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. He retired last year after 29 years with the Central Intelligence Agency. He served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East Affairs on the National Security Council (1997-2002), Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs (1995-97), and National Intelligence Officer for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Intelligence Council (1993-95).
Great comments and info by all.