The new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said the U.S. military will "respect the wishes" of the Iraqi government concerning the barrier. He said the Iraqi government -- not the U.S. military -- has to decide where to build barriers.
Crocker said the barrier was aimed at protecting the Sunni community, not segregating it. Crocker said the intention of barriers is to "identify where the fault lines are, where avenues of attack lie, and to set up the barriers literally to prevent those attacks."
But al-Maliki, speaking on April 22 in Cairo after meeting Arab League officials, criticized the building of the barrier.
"From the Arab point of view, and in reality, I rejected building the wall, and it will be stopped. But, basically, the main reason for this wall was not to isolate, but it was conceived as a means of protection, as a security measure. But, I was afraid that after building this wall, it might lead to others being built, which we reject," he said.
"I asked yesterday [April 21] that it be stopped and that alternatives be found for protecting the area of Al-Adhamiyah, because Al-Adhamiyah is a very old and historic area that needs more protection," al-Maliki added.
Al-Maliki, who is also a leader in the alliance of Shi'ite religious parties that dominates parliament, said his government does not seek isolation of the Sunni minority.
"I don't want to speak about isolation of the Sunnis. The Sunnis exist in the political system," he said. "The Sunnis are partners in all the fields of politics, and they are brothers and sons of one nation and the nation cannot be stable without all of the sects participating."
U.S. forces began construction of the 5-kilometer-long concrete wall on April 10 and say the project will be completed by the end of the month.
The spokesman for the Iraqi forces in the Baghdad security operation, Brigadier General Qasim Ata al-Musawi, said the "security barrier has been exaggerated by the media." He said Iraqi units involved in planning and building barriers are under al-Maliki's command.
Ata also said that "we have begun construction of these barriers in many Baghdad areas," but added that not all are walls. Some are ditches, sand bags, or fences.
"To install barriers is a thing, and to build a wall is another thing. These barriers what we installed are moveable, and can be transported to another area, after security settles in the mentioned area [Al-Adhamiyah]," he said. "But to say it's a sectarian siege in the Al-Adhamiya area, this is false."
Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators in Al-Adhamiyah have protested against the barrier, saying it would make them prisoners in their own neighborhood and an easier target.
Dawud al-Azami, the deputy director of the Al-Adhamiyah city council, told AP that a questionnaire that was handed out in the area on April 22 indicated that 90 percent of the respondents strongly oppose the barrier, though this was not independently confirmed.
Iraq's Refugee Crisis
Children at an Iraqi camp for displaced people outside Al-Nasiriyah in May 2006
REFUGEES FLEE SECTARIAN VIOLENCE The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has estimated that over 2 million Iraqis have fled sectarian violence for Jordan, Syria and other neighboring states, while an equal number may be internally displaced within Iraq..... (more)