Welcome to the West Bank - of the Tigris.
U.S. military brigade is constructing a 3-mile-long concrete wall to cut off one of the capital's most restive Sunni Arab districts from the Shiite Muslim neighborhoods that surround it, raising concern about the further Balkanization of Iraq's most populous and violent city.Now I understand that the counter-insurgency theory behind this is based on McMaster's temporarily successful work in Tal Afar. I can "get" the idea and it even looks good on paper.
U.S. commanders in northern Baghdad said the 12-foot-high barrier would make it more difficult for suicide bombers to strike and for death squads and militia fighters from sectarian factions to attack one another and then slip back to their home turf. Construction began April 10 and is expected to be completed by the end of the month.
Although Baghdad is replete with blast walls, checkpoints and other temporary barriers, including a massive wall around the Green Zone, the barrier being constructed in Adhamiya would be the first to be based in essence on sectarian considerations.
A largely Sunni district, Adhamiya is one of Baghdad's trouble spots, avoided not only by Shiites, but Sunni outsiders as well. The area is almost completely surrounded by Shiite-dominated districts such as Shamasiya and Gurayaat.
But the "hearts and minds" element of this idea is simply non-existant. To suggest putting up such barriers in an Arab capital should be something that is handled with extreme tender caution, sounding out local leaders, educating the local public and ensuring everyone's on board. But instead they've plunged on ahead, with predictable reactions.
Shiite and Sunni Arabs living in the shadow of the barrier were united in their contempt for the imposing new structure.The new counter-insurgency manual emphasizes the importance of information, of "hearts and minds" in counter-insurgency work. It was co-authored by Petraeus himself. Is he so desperate or so pressured by civilian masters to give them an exit that he's walking away from his own ideas of how to do the job right?
"Are they trying to divide us into different sectarian cantons?" said a Sunni drugstore owner in Adhamiya, who would identify himself only as Abu Ahmed, 44. "This will deepen the sectarian strife and only serve to abort efforts aimed at reconciliation."
Some of Ahmed's customers come from Shiite or mixed neighborhoods that are now cut off by large barriers along a main highway. Customers and others seeking to cross into the Sunni district must park their cars outside Adhamiya, walk through a narrow passage in the wall and take taxis on the other side.
Several residents interviewed likened the project to the massive barriers built by Israel around some Palestinian zones.
"Are we in the West Bank?" asked Abu Qusay, 48, a pharmacist who said that he wouldn't be able to get to his favorite kebab restaurant in Adhamiya.
"We're not completely sure how the population feels either way." said Army Sgt. Michael Pryor, a public affairs specialist for the unit building the wall, in an email to reporters. They bloody should have been sure - before they began!
Instead, the local reactions will be mirrored by regional reaction and the image of the US will take on a little more tarnish.
Update The AP reports that leaders in the Azamiyah are no happier about the wall than the general populace.
Community leaders said Saturday that construction began before they had approved an American proposal for the wall.and also reports Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf as saying there would be "some limitations on more than one neighborhood inside Baghdad." That means more walls.
"A few days ago, we met with the U.S. army unit in charge of Azamiyah and it asked us, as a local council, to sign a document to build a wall to reduce killing and attacks against Iraqi and U.S. forces," said Dawood al-Azami, the acting head of the Azamiyah council.
"I told the soldiers that I would not sign it unless I could talk to residents first. We told residents at Friday prayers, but our local council hasn't signed onto the project yet, and construction is already under way."
The BBC, meanwhile, has this:
Senior Sunni cleric Adnan al-Dulaimi, who leads the General Council for the People of Iraq which is part of the Iraqi Accord Front, said the wall was a disaster.By charging ahead without clear communication with and agreement from those most affected, this operation has shot itself, and the surge, in the foot. Instead of reducing feelings of sectarian alienation, it has increased them.
Speaking to an Iraqi news agency, he said it would separate Adhamiya from the rest of Baghdad and help breed further violence.
When McMaster did this in Tal Afar he did it with the prior canvassing, knowledge and support of the people who had to live in the shadow of the walls.
This time, the US didn’t ask. That will both fuel the feelings of seperateness which have been created by the sectarian violence and fuel resentment against US forces. McMasters own theories, as explained by him during the Tal Afar operation and subsequently while back in the US, say so.
So the obvious conclusion is that Petraeus, who is advised by McMaster, is under political pressure to do stuff faster even if it conflicts with their own doctrine. Most would see that civilian interference in military operations as counterproductive even if they think the surge is workable.