Friday, May 4, 2007

Baghdad wall has nothing to do with protecting Iraqis

In Focus:

More than a wall

Walling in Al-Adhamiyah has nothing to do with protecting Iraqis

When the Americans decided to build a wall around Al-Adhamiyah in Baghdad, they claimed that their main concern was to protect the inhabitants. Very noble of them, but was this the real reason? Are the Americans interested in protecting Al-Adhamiyah, or in protecting other areas from fighters based in Al-Adhamiyah? Before answering these questions, let's review a few developments that took place in Iraq of late.

The city of Kirkuk is being Kurdicised. Up until the occupation, ethnic Arabs mostly inhabited the city. Now the Kurds want to annex it to their province. Why is that? Because Kirkuk sits on a lake of oil, and the Kurds need to control the oil as part of their plan to secede from Iraq. The Kurdish scheme is so obvious that Turkey is already saying it cannot allow it to happen. The last thing the Erdogan government needs is a Kurdish state on its southern borders.

Meanwhile, plans are underway to declare a Basra Province in southern Iraq, although no attempts at secession have so far been made. The similarity between the situation in Kurdistan and Basra is worth examining. If things keep proceeding in this direction, Iraq would soon be partitioned into three mini-states. The "no fly" latitude lines the Clinton administration put in place several years ago would determine the borders of those mini-states. Kurdistan is already behaving as a semi-independent state. It is signing oil agreements with other countries, establishing political and economic ties with other nations, and generally ignoring the beleaguered government in Baghdad.

The Americans want to see Iraq divided; Kurdistan in the north, Basra in the south, and the Sunni triangle in the middle. But what does all this have to do with Al-Adhamiyah?

Well, let's not forget that the US administration is faced with a deepening crisis both at home and abroad. In Iraq, the US army is on the defensive. At home, the two houses of Congress, acting in defiance of President Bush, have made it clear that troops must be pulled out by September 2008 at the latest. Should the withdrawal take place -- and it most likely will -- then the whole Project for the New American Century would fall apart. All this planning, all these attempts to control oil resources, would come to nothing. It would be a disaster for the neo-cons. This is why the latter are determined to divide Iraq prior to withdrawal, the aim being to have two out of three mini-states under US control.

The Kurdish government would be pleased to forge a close alliance with the Americans. Such an alliance would offer the Kurds protection from the Turks, the Iranians and the pan-Arab government that may emerge in central Iraq. The southern province would also rush into US arms, for more or less the same reasons. Iraq would thus be reduced to the same status as any of the Gulf states, just another group of sheikhdoms reliant on oil and foreign backing.

This scenario wouldn't be easy to carry out so long as the resistance is going strong. So the fighters must be isolated in their strongholds: in Al-Anbar, Tel Afar, Al-Qaim and Al-Adhamiyah. Furthermore, some effort must be exerted for national unity, through the integration of former Baathists and army personnel into the system. The US administration is already moving in that direction. Also, the Americans claim to be succeeding in breaking the ranks of the Iraqi resistance. Still, why Al-Adhamiyah?

Let's go back to history. Founded at the time of Caliph Abu Jaafar Al-Mansour, Baghdad was built on the opposite banks of the Tigris. The west bank of the river was known as Al-Karkh, the east bank as Al-Rasafa. Until recently, the centre of the city was divided equally between the two banks. The mausoleum of Abu Hanifa was in Al-Rasafa, and that of Imam Al-Kazem was in Al-Karkh, with the Imamayn (two imams) Bridge connecting the two. Al-Adhamiyah took its name from the words "Al-Imam Al-Adham", or Abu Hanifa, a leading Sunni doctrinaire. During the Ottoman era, Al-Adhamiyah had a reputation for rebellion that continued even during the communist tide of the 1960s. Since the fall of Baghdad, Al-Adhamiyah has been active in resistance.

In the early days of the occupation, it was said that Iraq's political elite, Saddam's Hussein included, took refuge in Al-Adhamiyah. At one point, it was said that Saddam attended prayers at the mosque of Al-Imam Al-Adham. US forces reacted to the rumours by shelling the mosque. The main minaret of that mosque still bears the marks of shelling. For the past four years, Al-Adhamiyah has been a hotbed of resistance. The Americans repeatedly declared the area "liberated" from the resistance. But when the Americans tried to send the Iraqi army -- the new one they had created -- to its first real test in Al-Adhamiyah, dozens of Iraqi and US troops were killed. After this, the Americans tried to send troops in dinghies across the river, but suffered further losses.

Al-Adhamiyah is the link between the two banks of the Tigris and the gateway to Al-Waziriya, to the Ministry of Defence and the Green Zone. To isolate Al-Adhamiyah is to deprive the resistance of a vital asset. This is why the Americans built the wall. So there you have it. Al-Adhamiyah is part of the US drive to restrain, not protect, the Iraqis. This quest is likely to fail, as it did repeatedly in the past. The days of the occupation are numbered.

Galal Nassar

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