Friday, April 20, 2007

The Baghdad Wall

In Baghdad, where U.S. forces are trying to quell the escalating sectarian violence by putting additional soldiers on Baghdad's bloody streets (the "surge"), the American military has come up with a way to reduce the violence between Sunni and Shia neighborhoods - one which the administration isn't trumpeting, for fairly obvious reasons.

US soldiers are building a three-mile wall to separate one of Baghdad's Sunni enclaves from surrounding Shia neighbourhoods, it emerged today.

The move is part of a contentious security plan that has fuelled fears of the Iraqi capital's Balkanisation.

When the barrier is finished, the minority Sunni community of Adamiya, on the eastern side of the River Tigris, will be completely gated. Traffic control points manned by Iraqi soldiers will provide the only access, the US military said.

"Shias are coming in and hitting Sunnis, and Sunnis are retaliating across the street," Captain Scott McLearn, of the US 407th brigade support battalion, told the Associated Press.

The project, which began on April 10, is being worked on almost nightly, with cranes swinging enormous concrete barriers into place.

Although Baghdad is rife with barriers around marketplaces and areas such as the heavily fortified Green Zone, this is the first in the city to be set up on sectarian lines.

The concrete wall, which will be up to 12ft high, "is one of the centrepieces of a new strategy by coalition and Iraqi forces to break the cycle of sectarian violence," US officials said.

The officials said the barrier would allow authorities to screen people entering and leaving Adamiya "while keeping death squads and militia groups out".

The Adamiya wall is not something the Bush administration would rather not talk about, even if it proves fantastically successful in reducing sectarian violence. Why? First, because it concedes the glaringly obvious point that Iraq is riven along sectarian lines and that any hope for "national reconcilliation" under a democratic regime is a pipe dream.

Saddam's brutal despotism held the country together through terror and intimidation. Absent that force, the very unnatural creation that is Iraq is unraveling. The failure of Iraqis to put aside ethnic and religious differences and congeal instantly into a happy, peaceful, pro-Western democracy truly baffles the neoconservatives who still provide intellectual guidance for the administration. For decades they have bought into the myth of the "proposition nation." Under this fable, America isn't a nation whose people are bound by blood or language or culture or geography, but rather by espousing certain ideas: democracy, equality before the law, free market capitalism, etc. Anyone who embraces these ideas is an American, under this line of though, regardless of color, creed, tongue or location. Combine this with their massive misunderstanding of the "melting pot" myth, and you have one of the greatest intellectual delusions ever foisted upon a nation, or the world. Contrary to the "proposition nation" myth, America congealed as a great nation because its the overwhelming majority of its people - at least until now - shared a common ethnic, religious and cultural background (European) and spoke a common language (English). Immigrants to America were forced to assimilate to this common national character, no matter where they came from, because their numbers were to small to resist assimilation.

Nations rise and advance when peoples of common ethnicity create a common religion, culture and language. These assets help to forge bonds of trust among groups living in a given geographic area; that trust fosters social cooperation and reduces fear and mutual suspicion among groups, reducing violence. "Diversity" in ethnicity, language and cultural practices errodes the bonds of trust that are necessary to keep a society functioning smoothly. As diversity increases, the society fragments with groups self-segregating along ethnic, religious, linguistic or cultural lines. This is sometimes known as balkanization after the region of Europe where Catholicism, Islam, Orthodox Christianity clash among diverse ethnic and lingustic groups, providing the flash point for centuries of conflict and the outbreak of one world war.

Neoconservatives were all too willing to apply their misunderstanding of America - and nationhood in general - to Iraq and made it the centerpiece of America's foreign policy (and immigration policy as well, with equally disastrous consequences). But reality has an annoying way of ruining false theories. Iraqis just won't behave as the neocons want them to - centuries or religious and cultural differences just get in the way. The wall is a sign that Iraqis won't accept a "proposition nation" along the Tigris and Euphrates. It stands as a concrete billboard advertising the complete failure of the administration effort to "bring democracy to Iraq" and all the intellectual errors on which the project was based.

The second reason the administration won't do much to publlicize the wall is that someone might get the idea that if a wall could work to keep Sunnis and Shias apart in Baghdad, a similar wall might just keep Mexico from invading the U.S. But we can't have anyone thinking that, especially since Mr. Bush hates the half-hearted border wall that congress approved last year along a portion of the U.S.-Mexico border, and has done everything in his power to undermine it.

But a wall in Baghdad cannot hide the truth.

Some Sunnis living in Adamiya have welcomed the attempt to improve security but warned that it was another sign of the deep hostility between Sunnis and Shias.

Others were sceptical about the latest initiative to staunch the bloodshed in Baghdad, which reached new heights when a series of suicide bombings killed more than 200 people in a single day this week.

"I don't think this wall will solve the city's serious security problems," Ahmed Abdul-Sattar, a 35-year-old government worker, told the Associated Press. "It will only increase the separation between our people, which has been made so much worse by the war."

Meanwhile, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, will today arrive in Iraq, where he is expected to meet sectarian leaders and government officials in Baghdad.

In his third trip to the country in four months, he is expected to put pressure on the Shia prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, to move faster on reconciliation with the Sunnis, who have been elbowed aside since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"The clock is ticking," Mr Gates told reporters yesterday. "I know it's difficult ... but I think that it's very important that they bend every effort to getting this legislation done as quickly as possible."

What boggles the mind is that four years into this mess, the administration and its acolytes still believe that the Shia want reconcilliation with the Sunnis - or that the Sunnis are willing to accept reconcilitaion with people whom they despise for religious reasons. But, then, some people simply refuse to learn.


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