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As violence continued in Baghdad’s Sadr City district on Friday, attention turned to the wall US forces are building through the neighborhood–a wall that is reminiscent of the one Israel built around the Palestinian territories, as well as US military tactics used during the Vietnam War.

The Real News analyst Aijaz Ahmad says that the ostensible purpose of the Iraqi government’s wall–to keep insurgents under control–is only part of the story. Ahmad tells The Real News that it is meant to be a form of “population control” ahead of this year’s elections, which the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a vocal opponent of the US occupation, is expected to sweep. The result of the decision to build the wall is the transformation of an entire Baghdad neighborhood into a virtual prison, Ahmad says.

Story Transcript

VOICE OF ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: The month of March saw a sharp increase in violence in Iraq, casting doubt on claims that the US troop surge is working. There had been a slight reduction in violence until the last six to eight weeks, during which time attacks have spiraled. The latest bloodshed highlights how fragile those gains are. American forces also began building a massive concrete partition designed to separate the southern Thawra and Jamilla districts in the heart of Sadr City to the north. Some residents said they feared being isolated, and Sadrist leaders on Friday urged the government to stop erecting walls in Sadr City and other Shiite neighborhoods. We go to the Real News Senior News Analyst, Aijaz Ahmad.

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: So they’re building more walls in Sadr City, as if there weren’t already enough in Sadr City, as well as the rest of Baghdad, in Fallujah, in Basra, and all over Iraq. They say that they’re building these new barricades in order to prevent terrorists to go from one neighborhood to another and to help reconstruction. As a matter of fact, what is happening is that the whole of the Sadr City is being divided up into isolated cantons. It is a kind of population control that we know from the Vietnam experience. We had the strategic hamlets used to be created with barbed wars and towers doing surveillance, 24-hour surveillance, again on the same plea, that they were flushing out terrorists. And it went on for years and years and years. Why do they need to do population control? Fact of the matter is that they’re all the time talking about a Sadr militia, as if Sadr was just a militia leader. The best estimates that we have seem to suggest that a vast majority of the Shia, perhaps as much as 80 or 85 percent of the Shia, are now followers of Muqtada al-Sadr. So in the name of controlling Muqtada’s militia, they are building a structure in which they in fact need to control the whole of the population in Sadr City, very much on the model of the Israeli tactics and strategy around Gaza. The immediate problem for the al-Maliki government is that elections are scheduled in about three or four months, which Muqtada al-Sadr’s forces are expected to sweep. They need to control that whole population in any way they can. They cannot defeat the militia militarily. In fact, Sadr has said that he will disband the militia altogether if the senior clerics tell him to do so. Muqtada al-Sadr, who’s always being presented in the American media as this radical cleric, this man who’s running a militia and so on, is by far the most popular leader in Iraq, and his popularity depends not on his militia but his complete opposition to the occupation from the beginning. In fact, he’s the only major Shia leader who has been opposed to that occupation from the beginning. Moreover, among all the Shia leaders, Muqtada al-Sadr is the man who’s farthest away from Iran. He’s the most independent-minded political leader in Iraq, and he has united 70 to 80 percent of the Shia behind him. And it is quite possible that a multi-sectarian national liberation movement might arise in Iraq centered around Muqtada’s forces. It is that possibility which needs to be preempted through the most extreme measures, even if that means that large sections of the population of Iraq have to be put behind walls, virtually behind bars.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Based in New Delhi, Aijaz Ahmad has appeared many times on The Real News Network; he is Senior Editorial Consultant, and political commentator for the Indian newsmagazine, Frontline. He has taught Political Science, and has written widely on South Asia and the Middle East.