The US began building walls throughout Baghdad in early April, hoping to limit population flows and establish obstacles to vehicle-born bombs. The theory is as simple as “If we keep the bad guys out, then we win,” according to 1st Lt. Sean Henley.
Shockingly, the tactic has sparked strong protests from residents of Baghdad, both Sunni and Shia. Last Sunday, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, announced his opposition to the first wall, around the Sunni Adhamiya district: “I oppose the building of the wall and its construction will stop…There are other methods to protect neighborhoods.” Since then, there have been large protests throughout Baghdad, with frequent allusion to the Israeli wall on the West Bank and the Berlin wall. It looks like some sort of wall will ultimately be built around Adhamiya, though “instead of a tall concrete wall, smaller concrete barriers and barbed wire will be used.”
It seems, though, that the protests may have been based on a misunderstanding. According to one Max Boot, writing on Commentary’s blog, the walls are really nothing to get worked up about. Here’s his explanation:
The whole process ought to be familiar to students of counterinsurgency. It is, in essence, an update of the old plan known as “concentration” zones or camps. The latter name causes understandable confusion, since we’re not talking about extermination camps of the kind that Hitler built, but rather of settlements where locals can be moved to live under guard, thereby preventing insurgent infiltration. The British used this strategy in the Boer war, the Americans during the Philippine war, and many other powers took similar steps in many other conflicts. In Vietnam they were known as “strategic hamlets.”
Ah, just an update of the old “concentration camp” tactic. Why didn’t they say so in the first place?
— Dave Meyer
Photo credits: Ali Yussef/AFP via Iraqslogger.