Global Issues, US Politics

Great Wall of China, or the “Gated Community” Dream?

I’d be curious what others think about this. Seems to me like a temporary measure. But maybe that is what is needed, a ‘temporary’ wall until the tempers subside. The problem with walls though is that once they are up, they usually end up sticking around for a while…

Here are some detail from the LA Times piece.

A 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…

The ambitious project is a sign of how far the U.S. military will go to end the bloodshed in Iraq. But U.S. officials denied that it was a central tactic of the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown launched Feb. 13.

It’s good to know that this is not considered part of the counterinsurgency ‘surge’. I am no expert, but I would put some money on ‘dividing communities with walls’ not being in Patraeus’, Counterinsurgency Doctrine. But if this isn’t part of the surge, then what is it?

On the extent of it:

“We defer to commanders on the ground, but dividing up the entire city with barriers is not part of the plan,” U.S. military spokesman Army Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said Thursday.

Some reaction:

“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.”

“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….

Some predicted the new wall would become a target of militants on both sides. Last week, construction crews came under small-arms fire, military officials said.

“I feel this is the beginning of a pattern of what the whole of Iraq is going to look like, divided by sectarian and racial criteria,” Abu Marwan, 50, a Shiite pharmacist, said.

While It may indeed have a positive impact, who the hell knows?, my sense is that this might be a tad too much spin:

The wall is “on a fault line of Sunni and Shia, and the idea is to curb some of the self-sustaining violence by controlling who has access to the neighborhoods,” Army Capt. Marc Sanborn, brigade engineer for the project, said in the release. He said the concept was closer to an exclusive gated community in the United States than to China’s Great Wall.

A related anecdote. A couple of months ago in Oxford I saw a talk by a US counterinsurgency expert who had spent the better part of the past few years working with the military in Anbar. A point that stuck with me was that even if Patraeus wanted to fully implement his idea of a counterinsurgency, it is incredibly difficult to get commanders on the ground to follow suit. Particularly when many aspects of the strategy would put their soldiers at greater risk. You therefore often get a disconnect between the best strategic policy to defeat an insurgency, and what commanders feel is required to minimize casualties. This person felt that Patraeus’ biggest challenge was going to be to overcome this. I wonder where the wall fits in with this challenge?

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