The US is planning to turn the Iraqi capital of Baghdad into a series of prison camps, surrounded by miles of 12 foot high concrete walls topped with barbed wire.
US and Iraqi troops will only allow residents in and out of their neighbourhoods through heavily guarded checkpoints. A military spokesman described the maze of walls planned for the Iraqi capital as “gated communities”.
The US claims the walls are “temporary” and are being built to end the cycle of sectarian violence that has plagued Iraq since the occupation began in 2003.
Yet most of the sectarian death squads operating in the capital are members of the Iraqi army or ministry of interior troops controlled by the US-backed Badr Brigades militia.
The first wall – called the “separation barrier” after a similar wall erected by Israel in the Occupied Territories – is being built at night to surround the Sunni resistance stronghold of Adhamiya.
The Adhamiya wall will be followed by similar ones around the neighbourhoods of al-Ghazaliya and Sadr City, the Baghdad slum that is the stronghold of rebel Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Iraqis say the walls are an attempt to entrench sectarian divisions in the capital. Far from ending tit-for-tat murders, it is a move by US troops and their Iraqi allies to isolate the centres of Sunni and Shia resistance.
As news of the wall’s construction spread through Adhamiya, residents called a demonstration.
Over 7,000 locals defied a curfew to march through the area denouncing the “sectarian barrier”.
The march passed off peacefully despite threats by the US military, broadcast over mosque loudspeakers, warning residents to stay indoors.
A survey found that 90 percent of locals in Adhamiya are opposed to the wall.
The enclosure of Baghdad’s neighbourhoods is part of a wider strategy set out by the US since it laid siege to the city of Fallujah in 2004.
This strategy involves US troops controlling all entry and exit points to the city, forcing residents to go through humiliating searches and to carry biometric identity cards.
Despite this, Fallujah remains a hotbed of opposition to the occupation.
Resistance to the sectarian wall comes as the United Nations (UN) has expressed growing concern about the fate of over 15,000 Iraqis who have disappeared without a trace in the four years of occupation.
Many of the disappeared are thought to have been kidnapped and killed by government death squads.
But an unknown number are believed to be languishing in one of the many secret prisons the US has set up around the country.
The situation has become so desperate that an Iraqi ministry, set up to trace those who disappeared under Saddam Hussein’s regime, has turned its attention to tracing the thousands of people who have vanished since 2003.
Tina Abdallah’s two sons went missing in August 2004. Her 28 year old son never returned home after his shift at a bakery. Her youngest son disappeared from university where he was studying.
Tina told the UN news agency IRIN, “During Saddam’s time, people were being arrested and sometimes families couldn’t get any information about their loved ones.
“But the proposed democracy hasn’t changed this reality. My two sons have disappeared and I can’t get any information. I don’t even know if they’re dead.
“I have gone to NGOs, the ministry of human rights and police departments looking for them, but no one could help me.
“My last attempt was in the US-run prisons. But it was even harder to get to speak with someone there because of the huge number of people with the same problem as me.”
Mukhaled al-Ani, of the Iraqi Human Rights Association, told the UN, “Based on studies done by local NGOs, it is probable that at least 15,000 Iraqis have disappeared in the past four years of occupation.
“Compared to the number of people going missing in 2005, figures for 2006 and 2007 have increased by at least 50 percent.”