As the Iraqi parliament continues to debate the US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (Sofa), residents of Baghdad are urging the government to tear down the walls which separate their neighborhoods.
Iraqis want walls torn down
- Publish date:20/11/2008
Iraqis say the walls were designed to consolidate sectarianism and establish a number of cantons; now that security has improved, they say, there is no reason to allow the walls to stand.
Maysoon Abd al-Hamid, a 57-year-old engineer from Adhamiya, says the walls are a nightmare.
"I cannot believe this is happening to us in the 21st century ... we are living in a roofless prison, caged in like animals. The walls have cut our neighborhoods and redrawn the map of our capital."
After the US invasion and the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, Adhamiya, a predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhood of mainly middle class professionals and former Iraqi army officers became one of the main areas for fighters opposing the presence of foreign troops on Iraqi soil.
In April, US forces in Iraq started constructing a separation wall around the northern district, and Adhamiya, Baghdad's oldest district, became completely isolated from the rest of the capital.
To the east of Adhamiya, the mostly Shia suburb of Sadr city is also surrounded by a separation wall. Founded by Abd al-Karim Qassim, Iraq's prime minister in 1958, it housed farmers brought from the countryside to Baghdad.
The city then boomed and became one of Baghdad's largest districts.
However, US authorities in Iraq say the walls were built to curb the activities of militia who used the two districts as bases from which to carry out attacks in Baghdad.
Abdellatif Rayan, the media officer for the Multi-National Forces in Iraq, who left office shortly after being interviewed by Al Jazeera, said: "The coalition forces do not build walls to separate communities. We build safe neighborhoods, safe markets, and safe roads."
He said that the walls have limited "the enemy's freedom of movement and safeguarded the Iraqi people."
"We have seen success throughout Baghdad with this proven tactic," he told Al Jazeera.
Abu Saif, an Adhamiya resident, says US official statements about the walls are disingenuous.
He said: "We think the wall is a tactic to protect themselves not us, we saw the casualties they suffered. If they were really concerned about us, they would have torn those walls down a long time ago, given the strife they have caused the people in both Adhamiya and Sadr city."
Kamal al-Hayani, a teacher from al-Sadr city, finds the walls demeaning.
"What do those walls mean? They mean that people living within them are dangerous and murderers. I refuse to be labeled a murderer because a bunch of criminals happened to live in my neighborhood," he said.
The walls have also had an adverse economic effect on the communities they encompass.
Prices of basic commodities have sharply risen as merchants are forced to navigate a myriad of checkpoints and concrete barriers.
Abu Farah, a grocer who owns a shop in Adhamiya, says residents are unable to afford many of the items he sells.
He also said that the wall in some parts of Adhamiya has blocked from view many of the shops.
"Business in those shops has dropped to a minimum, and merchants have had no choice but to hike their prices to make up the losses."
Maysoon, the engineer from Adhamiya, says the walls have dismantled Baghdad's mailing address system.
"When you have visitors, instead of giving them your address just like in any civilized city, we give them a landmark at the wall and wait for them there," she said.
"It is embarrassing."
However, Rayan said the walls have created a secure environment which allowed the residents of Adhamiya to live more normal lives.
"There were fault lines across which the militia and al-Qaeda were fighting, and literally evicting, displacing, and sometimes killing families and pushing them out," he said.
"Walking around in the Adhamiya neighborhood one would find the walls there had helped to provide, again, a significant degree of control over access into those neighborhoods, which used to have quite a substantial al-Qaeda presence."
A wall in Baghdad