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April 19, 2008 | by  | in Online Only | [ssba]

Why does the West have a fascination with walls?

It seems that the Americans are taking a page out of the Israeli’s book and have decided to construct a wall in Sadr City, Baghdad. The action reeks of the Jewish partial partition of the west bank.

Like the Israeli’s before them, the United States is justifying the construction along security grounds. The Wall has been set up to stop militias and insurgents raiding the mostly shiite area. The US Army claims that unless there is some kind of order and security in the area they wont be able to start on reconstruction and development. An interesting concept, and one that if they’d got onto a bit earlier (i.e 4 years ago) they probably wouldnt be having to deal with increased sectarian tensions now.

Furthermore, how does physically (and mentally, a wall is an important symbol) partitioning a populace from another one, actually solve anything? Sure it stops access for those wishing to cause harm, but it also stops dialog and interaction. By tangibly entrenching both sides of the conflict onto literally opposite sides of the fence, how is there ever going to be a peaceful resolution to the crisis?

A strong traditional US military presence, buttressed by an ever growing Iraqi police and army force is needed, but that doesn’t mean, that they need to hold traditional ideas and tactics. Wake up guys, warfare strategy has changed since 1950’s Berlin. Its time to think of something new.


About the Author ()

Conrad is a very grumpy boy. When he was little he had a curl in the middle of his forehead. When he was good, he was moderately good, but when he was mean he was HORRID. He likes guns, bombs and shooting doves. He can often be found reading books about Mussolini and tank warfare. His greatest dream is to invent an eighteen foot high mechanical spider, which has an antimatter lazer attached to its back.

Comments (18)

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  1. Jackson Wood says:

    Berlin, Maginot Line, Iron Curtain, North Korea/South Korea, North Vietnam/South Vietnam West Germany/East Germany, the Alamo etc etc.

    Borders are a western invention, and because the west is so powerful, borders are part of the rest of the non western worlds problem. It is part of our Lockian way of thinking. This piece of land is mine, this piece of land is yours. Bugger off.

    What it boils down to is a) resources and b) nationalism. in Iraq’s case it is both, in Berlin’s case it was just b. The West needs to move away from the perverted form of lockianism, J S Millism, Hobbesianism, that it has been cultivating for the past 400 years.

    The west, and Israel, and any other culture/civilization/society/peoples are never going to get anywhere by building walls. The only way forward is to tear them down.

    Ich bin ein Berliner

  2. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    Funny thing about temporary walls / divisions / partitions / demarcations / de-militarised zones is, they have this annoying habit of becoming permanent. I disagree that it solely boils down to either resources or nationalism, however – it can also be for security.

    That’s not to say that they aren’t effective – the Berlin Wall reduced the haemorrhaging of people from East Germany to West Germany to a mere trickle, and the West Bank wall has dramatically recuded the number of suicide bombings in Israel.

    But I do agree that a different approach is needed – one that doesn’t serve as a twenty-foot tall symbol for the extremist elements in Iraq. Whilst I don’t think there’s any one solution to solve every situation that leads to the creation of these ‘walls’, I believe in this case the solution is greater regional autonomy – increased support for local militias who are more inclined to support the Maliki government in combatting and disarming extremist militias, the promotion of the ‘awakening movement’ to assist in handling local security concerns, and greater ties of cooperation between the Iraqi military and these regional militias.

  3. matt the truck says:

    “Borders are a western invention”… um.. really, what about the Great Wall

  4. It’s more a wall than a border, ain’t it?

  5. Jackson Wood says:

    What about the Great Wall? I’ve been naked on the Great Wall fyi. I’ll see if I can find that picture…

  6. matt the truck says:

    Yer, but it once was a ‘border’ in a sense… separating two different people… the Chinese and the Mongols

  7. matt the truck says:….

    everyone forgets about China.. they had borders too…. well before ‘the west’ really existed

  8. Matthew: “increased support for local militias who are more inclined to support the Maliki government in combatting and disarming extremist militias”

    Unfortunately these govt-friendly militias are just as well-known for sectarian killings as the “extremist” variety, so your solution is, well, terrible.

    Matt: the Great Wall was more a trading post than a border: Chinese agents functioned outside of it without feeling like they were in alien land. Same with Hadrian’s Wall.

  9. matt the truck says:

    “The Chinese were already familiar with the techniques of wall-building by the time of the Spring and Autumn Period, which began around the 7th century BC. During the Warring States Period from the 5th century BC to 221 BC, the states of Qi, Yan and Zhao all constructed extensive fortifications to defend their own borders. Built to withstand the attack of small arms such as swords and spears, these walls were made mostly by stamping earth and gravel between board frames. Qin Shi Huang conquered all opposing states and unified China in 221 BC, establishing the Qin Dynasty. Intending to impose centralized rule and prevent the resurgence of feudal lords, he ordered the destruction of the wall sections that divided his empire along the former state borders.”

    So what does ‘former state borders’ mean.. if the west came up with borders?

  10. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    Tristan: the appearance and rising of the local awakening councils in provinces such as al Anbar, and Baghdad districts such as Adhamiya, has coincided with a relative drop in sectarian violence and attacks on Coalition forces. Whilst the background of many of these militia groups may be questionable, the result of their ‘awakening’ is irrefutable – the statistics on this are one of the few areas that the US military, and groups such as Iraq Body Count, agree upon.

    I’m not proposing that all security concerns be handed over to these groups (far from it) – merely that the United States and Iraqi forces can’t be everywhere at once, and these local militias present a viable, if not ideal, alternative.

    A more legitimate concern is what to do with the local militias long-term, if and when the violence begins to subside. Iraqi Armed Forces plan to absorb about 25% of them, but they’re not entirely sure what to do with the remaining 75%.

    Getting a bit off topic though…

  11. Matthew – it appears your solution may have some weight… certainly the Iraqi people would appear to be happier about local policing than relying upon foreign troops to wade into sectarian conflict. My concern, though, would be that sanctioned militias should be developed into non-sectarian forces that combine all sections of the community; provided that happens, the solution is a good one.

    The counter-argument is that, prior to the development of the awakening councils, various Shi’ite controlled Ministries were paying sectarian militia who were involved in escalating violence. Ensuring this does not happen will not be easy.

  12. Matthew_Cunningham says:


    Yes, you are right – even the sanctioned militias are partisan in nature, and do not reflect a broad union of the various groups within their communities. Perhaps the solution there is a closer partnership with the Iraqi Armed / Police forces – small detachments of these forces attached to each militia group. Do the Iraqi security forces have the resources for that, I wonder?

    The other option is, quite simply, absorb the lot of them into the Iraqi security forces, and put them on the payroll – albeit temporarily. Also, stress the nature of the conflict as a “war of national liberation”, rather than just as a civil strife. Then, after the war is ‘over’, keep 25% of the militia on the payroll, then disarm the rest by offering the promise of a ‘war veteran’ pension or stipend. That way, the Iraqi government gets what it wants – the disarming of the militias after the violence subsides – and the militias get what they want – some form of representation in the armed forces, as well as continued financial support from the government for the rest.

  13. Jackson Wood says:

    Woah. Ok… Matthew, come to the office and chat!

  14. Kerry says:

    Umm .. wall in Israel to separate Palestinians from jobs, shops, etc, was funded by USA.

    Same, wall in Bagdad to separate Iraqi’s from etc.

    Just contractors repeating the contract in another location for same bosses.

    Business wins. Locals find life exponentially more difficult. Treadmill of US involvement in oil wars continues to turn.

    Time to opt out and get a bicycle.

  15. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    Jackson: Do I get a free cookie if I do? :)

  16. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    Kerry: the West Bank Wall is a purely Israeli idea, proposed as early as 1992 by Yitzhak Rabin. Bush has actually expressed opposition to the idea of the wall, even if that opposition was somewhat limited in nature (from memory I believe he said that it was a problem, and should only be a temporary measure).

    Whilst it is true that the United States does supply Israel with large amounts of money, Congress has passed laws that inhibit the supply of this money only so long as it is used “to support activities in the geographic areas which were subject to the administration of the Government of Israel before June 5, 1967.” (Public Law No. 108-11). This precludes its use in the construction of the West Bank Wall where it deviates from the so-called ‘green line’. So technically Israel CANNOT use US-funded money to construct the wall (although that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do so on the sly).

    I’m not condoning the wall by the way – I think as it currently stands it is a horrendous violation of the rights of everyday Palestinians, which in many cases has robbed, or is robbing them, of their livelihood. Whilst I respect that Israel had to do SOMETHING to stem the tide of suicide attacks at the beginning of the decade, I think it should have done this in a more appropriate fashion. Israel seems to have trouble recognising appropriate retaliation from massive retalistion.

  17. Jackson Wood says:

    You provide the cookie, we’ll brew you a nice spot o’ tea.

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