‘Great Wall’ in Iraq Divides, Not Unites

Seen as the beginning of a new and exclusive gated community in Azamiyah, Iraq, the ‘Great Wall,’ as soldiers have jokingly come to call it, has not been met with the enthusiasm that the United States had hoped. Originally created to lower, if not eliminate, sectarian violence between the Sunni and their Shia neighbors, the three-mile wall, planned to be finished at the end of the month, has so far only served one purpose: uniting Iraqi residents against American troops again.
Residents of the Azamiyah neighborhood have plenty of reasons to be upset. The wall itself is a far cry from anything that American architects would design for gated communities here in the United States. Putting aesthetics aside, the wall is not functional by any stretch of the imagination.
Despite the fact that it is made out of 12-foot slabs of concrete, there are gaps all along the wall, some large enough for people to squeeze through, which render the structure virtually useless. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how to use this vital design flaw for more destructive purposes.
Not only is the wall potentially dangerous to residents in a physical sense, it is also creating a tremendous amount of social tension. With an overwhelming 90 percent of the Sunni community completely opposed to the wall, it is surprising that the military was even given consent by the Iraqi government to build the wall in the first place.
Oh wait, they weren’t. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had his misgivings when the U.S. military first proposed the idea, and never officially agreed to its construction. Recent protests in the street confirm al-Maliki’s hesitation.
Many residents claim that they feel as though they are being isolated from the rest of the community. Others say that Sunnis are being exclusively targeted by the military for these prison-like communities to keep them under control, and who can blame them? Azamiyah is not the only wall to go up. Last month the neighborhood of Dora had barriers placed around it. When the United States re-invaded Fallujah in 2004, the entire city was cut off, and back in 2003 several buildings that were considered main targets for insurgent attacks had walls placed around them.
And what if the walls don’t work? Residents are asking the same question and are concerned as to what the answer might be. ‘Individual houses surrounded by blocks?’ one resident asked a Newsweek reporter. ‘What kind of life is this?’
The Iraqis already felt uncomfortable with U.S. occupation to begin with; adding walls and dividing the city into smaller sectors only makes them more uncomfortable.
As the past few days have shown, putting up a barrier to stop insurgent attacks has done nothing but create animosity between Sunnis and American military forces. Although U.S. officials may have had good intentions, the construction of the Azamiyah wall shows insensitivity toward the Iraqi people. The community was never informed of the plan to build the wall and never asked for their opinions on how to reduce the tension between their neighbors.
On paper, building a wall to protect innocent bystanders may have seemed like a good idea, but realistically, building a wall is not going to solve anything. Members of the community feel penned in rather than part of an ‘exclusive’ neighborhood as military officials put it. If insurgents really want to harm those they find to be unfit to live, a simple wall is not going to stop them. There is no doubt that protecting people is important, but finding ways to do so without making people feel imprisoned is the key.

Elizabeth Rico is a fourth-year English major. She can be reached at ricoe@uci.edu.