Sunday, April 22, 2007

What the separation-walls mean

Al-Hayat brings together some comments on the Great Wall of Adhamiya:
A member of parliament for the Islamic Party said resort to this policy reinforces the tendency to sectarianism among the population, in fact this decision relies on [or sanctions] the sectarian factor in isolating the area, pointing out that "this is an index of the fact that this government has not yet grasped that while military effort is needed, it is not he solution of every problem."...

The official spokesman for the Sadrist trend told Al-Hayat "A policy of enclosing neighborhoods is not going to make the Baghdad security plan succeed. Adopting this approach is a result of the fact that the Iraqi military forces have voluntarily submitted to the American occupation". ...

A resident by the name of Ali Ibrahim said "it appears that federalism, with its desire to partition Iraq, will also include Baghdad in its partitioning. People here are talking about a decision by the government to issue special identity [cards or badges] to the residents of Sunni neighborhoods."...

Computer programmer Mustafa, age 25, stressed "uneasiness with the thrust behind the wall [policy] because it will turn Adhamiya into a giant prison."
The journalist balances this with explanations by government people, and a mocking comment by the Islamic State of Iraq. But the gist of the above-noted comments, representing Sunni political opposition, Shiite political opposition and the views of residents, is that this wall isn't just a random bad idea. On the contrary, the idea here is that the wall embodies and symbolizes the fact that "Iraqi forces have submitted to the occupation"; that the Maliki government and the Americans are relying on and sanctioning the principle of sectarian separation; and that the occupation appears to be taking the partition/federalism scheme right into the heart of Baghdad. In a word: The wall embodies and symbolizes the fact that the Americans are not merely responding to violence to try and minimize it. Rather, they are implementing by force a proactive strategy that exploits the sectarian problems in the interests of partition and further weakening of the country; and the Iraqi forces are going along with that.

A lot of the "progressive" American criticism of the war is based on the contrary idea, namely that the Bush administration lacks a coherent plan, that they are buffoons, that they are already way past plan B, and absurdly up to the letter F or G. That they are continually being outwitted by the mercurial action-hero Sadr. And so on and so forth. This is the view that sees the Bush administration as the short guy in the old tall-guy/short-guy vaudeville routine, a sad story, supposedly, that will lead to inevitable defeat and withdrawal. The point here is that a discussion that stays within that framework is missing the other side of the story, namely that there really is a proactive American strategy, and that they are not really there as peacekeepers.

Let's give credit where credit is due. The building of isolation-walls around troublesome residential areas in Iraq was part of a series of war-winning ideas published over four months ago by the neo-con Nibras Kazimi, former Chalabi employee and De-Baathification implementer, now at the Hudson Institute (see his personnel blurb there), in a December 1 2006 post that included this:
I propose a ‘closed canton’ method for Baghdad’s Sunni-heavy suburbs of Hai al-Jami’a, ‘Amiriya, Jihad, Ghazaliya, Yarmouk, Dora, Khadra’ and ‘Adhamiya, closing each off unto itself. A similar fix should be extended to the rural Sunni satellite towns (the housing clusters) to the north, west and south of Baghdad: Mushahdeh, Khan Dhari, Mahmoudiya, Yusufiya, and ‘Arab Jbour.

This should be done using the Israeli method: fence them with concrete and technology. The Israelis have been building a separating wall between them and the Palestinians over the past two years....
Israeli separation walls for Iraq seemed a bizarre figment of the neocon imagination at the time, but now that it appears to be US policy, it's worth taking a look at the politics of this. Kazimi called for high-profile development projects to be undertaken in the walled-off areas, and also this: "...a systematic effort to match the Saddam regime's personnel archives to the current addresses of these ex-officers from the military and intelligence services should be undertaken. Most of these officers were given state-sponsored housing in the above mentioned neighborhoods during the Saddam era..." In other words, if we take Kazimi as an index of the neo-con approach, it would appear a major political aim of this walling-off strategy has to do with more-efficient hunting down of ex-Baathists, contrary to the supposed US strategy, which is to ease de-Baathification and try and negotiate with the domestic (non-AlQaeda/ISI) resistance.

So while we are being told that the US recognizes the damage caused by the initial de-Baathification excesses, and is supposedly pressing the Maliki administration to do more by way of national reconciliation, the Israeli-wall strategy points in the other direction, toward an intensified exploitation of the sectarian issue, hand in hand with an intensification and militarization of de-Baathification.


Blogger Mike said...

Thanks for the coverage. This wall is an absolutely stupid idea and this type of thing did not work in French Algeria during the 50's, nor did it work in Vietnam with 'strategic hamlets,' and it definitely will not work in Iraq either.

What I find troubling is that the Green Zone politicians say they are pursuing de-Baathification and negotiation with insurgents, while at the same time pursuing a strategy (walling) that is apparently meant to be a way of tracking down ex-Baathists and weakening Baghdad by fragmenting it into sects.

What any observer of history can definitely recognize in this wall is that it shows us that the war will come to an end soon (I am not going to set forth any time-frame). Typically this type of fencing strategy signifies the 'last gasp' if you will of imperial strategy.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Nell said...

What do you think about the question of who took down the Sarafiya bridge? Pat Lang says it would have taken more than a truck bomb, and there were early reports of a second explosion.

It might fit into the plan of walling off a Sunni neighborhood to destroy one of its main access routes.

It's... {throat-clearing} audacious.

10:10 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Right, I noticed that remark by Pat Lang. We're in the realm of what's plausible and what isn't. I don't know, but just as food for thought, the thing that sticks in my mind is the way the Baathist commentator, (summarized a couple of posts back) saw the sequence of "high-points": (1) Execution of Saddam in a way to heighten sect-hatred; (2) giving a leg-up, directly or via entities in the Gulf, to the foreign jihadis to help them fight the domestic resistance as well as Shiites; (3) blowing up the bridges. As he sees it, all fitting together as steps in a plan to weaken and break up the country.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Badger, any speculation you have on the significance of Maliki's demand to the U.S. to halt the construction of the wall would be much welcome.

11:57 AM  
Blogger badger said...

you're luring me out into the deep water with that... If I had to take a speculative stab at it, I'd say the long-term process is to use Maliki as long as he can keep a semblance of support in the Green Zone, then push him out the door, so maybe to Maliki this wall strategy, with its very powerful explanatory symbolism, is something he sees as the breaking point, beyond which he wouldn't be able to keep that semblance of support in the Green Zone, so if the wall strategy goes ahead, it would be the end of the Maliki era... You asked for speculation...

12:54 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Badger, no need to venture too deep. Maliki made reference to "other walls" and in the Guardian he was taken to be referring to the Berlin Wall. Given this reference and given the fact that Iraqis of all sects (Kurdish, Shia, and Sunni) are against this wall and many view it as a form of collective punishment, Maliki's reference to the Berlin Wall could be of considerable relevance in this kind of speculation.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Nell said...

(1) Execution of Saddam in a way to heighten sect-hatred

So who was really responsible for that, in your estimation?

I ask because I was critical recently of a TomDispatch by Dilip Hiro in which he repeatedly describes Sistani as a nationalist. Yet he also says that the timing of Saddam's execution happened over U.S. objections, and was given the decisive push by Sistani.

It's an odd sort of 'nationalist' (unless 'nation' is defined as 'Shia dictatorship') who would press to inflame sectarian feelings in such a way.

I was also unwilling to let the U.S. decision-makers off the hook so easily. Why would they have given in to demands for Saddam's handover in such a hurried and designed-to-inflame way if they were serious about minimizing sectarian conflict? There was some excuse-making afterwards about concern about violent efforts to free Saddam, but I didn't give those much credibility.

4:56 PM  
Blogger annie said...

badger, fyi on Kazimi's website, that quote is dated "nov 4 update". i also noted this segment..

drastically new experiment of controlling the turbulent town of 200,000 souls: fence the population in...the Americans opted to turn Fallouja into a vast interment camp. But for a few incidents here and there, the plan worked very well. (his bold)

as an aside, anyone who believes the US objected to sadam excecution is nuts, imho. follow what they do, not what they say.

good post

5:33 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I guess that "vast internment camp" quote pretty well sums it up. I should have quoted that too. Funny I don't recall reading about that in the papers. (btw, I think that Update dating was probably a typo for "December 3").

Nell, I'm actually not crazy about taking firm positions on forensic issues like that. I figure the more one learns about the whole picture, the more things will fall into place

6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nebras Kazimi is a shia kurd.
He is related to both Talabani and Chalabi and is a staunch chauvinistic anti iraqi.

4:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good coverage but very sad. Thank you Badger for providing us the truth about the situation in Iraq and that region.

The news media is USA is referring to the walls in Baghdad as "gated communities", trying to conjure visions of these plush houses with beautiful landscape, safe, serene and quiet settings, residents coming and going as they wish, waking up to singing of birds.... They refer to the gigantic wall imprisoning Palestinians as "fence", nice neighborly fence.

How do they come up with such descriptions of walls intended to imprison entire populations and control their movements and lives?

8:15 PM  
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