BAGHDAD (Reuters) - More than a thousand Iraqis marched in west Baghdad on Saturday in a rare public demonstration to protest against a wall they say the U.S. military is planning to erect around their neighbourhood.
Carrying an Iraqi national flag and banners condemning the wall the marchers in the predominantly Shi‘ite district of al-Washash chanted “No, no to the wall. No, no to America.”
The U.S. military sparked international outrage earlier this year when it began erecting a high concrete barrier to shield the Sunni Arab enclave of Adhamiya in east Baghdad from neighbouring Shi‘ite communities.
While tens of thousands of Iraqis often mass for religious festivals, a pervasive fear of violence means public protests against U.S. or Iraqi government policy are seldom seen.
“Today we are saying no to the occupiers, no to the wall and no to all these disgraceful actions,” said Abu Jalal al-Saraji, one of the local tribal leaders in al-Washash in Baghdad’s predominantly Sunni Arab west Baghdad.
The U.S. military had no immediate comment.
The military has said it is erecting concrete walls in at least five Baghdad neighbourhoods. The aim is to protect the areas from gunmen as part of a U.S. security crackdown, launched in mid-February, which involves 30,000 extra U.S. troops.
The security push is seen as a final attempt by the U.S. military to stem sectarian violence between majority Shi‘ites and minority Sunni Arabs and prevent all-out civil war.
While the so-called “surge” is being credited with a marked drop in civilian and U.S. casualties in September this year, car bombs and sectarian killings still occur daily.
In al-Washash, some small concrete blocks have been placed across a road and the protesters say the U.S. is planning to replace them with a high wall next week.
“The occupiers are planning to build a wall around our area but we see that as them putting the area under siege,” said another tribal leader who did not give his name. “This is a secure area and this is a peaceful demonstration to condemn it.”
While the march passed peacefully, police said two civilians were wounded in clashes with the Iraqi army afterwards.
U.S. air strikes on the neighbourhood in September killed at least 14 people including one woman and destroyed 11 houses, Iraqi police and residents said. The U.S. military said its troops came under fire from gunmen on rooftops in the area.
Additional reporting by Mussab al-Khairalla and Aws Qusay