- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2007

11:49 a.m.

BAGHDAD — The American ambassador said today that the United States would “respect the wishes” of the Iraqi government after the prime minister ordered a halt to construction of a three-mile wall separating a Sunni enclave from surrounding Shi’ite areas in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, bombings killed at least 46 persons and wounded more than 100, authorities said, including a suicide attack that killed at least 19 near a restaurant outside Ramadi. A parked car bomb also exploded outside the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, killing one civilian, and a drive-by shooting wounded two guards at the Tunisian Embassy, police said.

Any plan to build “gated communities” to protect Baghdad neighborhoods from sectarian attacks was in doubt after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said during a visit to Sunni-led Arab countries that he did not want the 12-foot-high wall in Azamiyah to be seen as dividing the capital’s sects.

However, confusion persisted about whether the plan would continue in some form: The chief Iraqi military spokesman said today that the prime minister was responding to exaggerated reports about the barrier.

“We will continue to construct the security barriers in the Azamiyah neighborhood. This is a technical issue,” Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said. “Setting up barriers is one thing and building barriers is another. These are movable barriers that can be removed.”

Gen. al-Moussawi noted that similar walls were in place elsewhere in the capital — including in other residential neighborhoods — and criticized the press for focusing on Azamiyah.

“It’s exaggerated by the media. We expected this reaction by some weak-minded people,” he said.

However, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Azamiyah to oppose what they called “a big prison.”

“The main aim of these barriers is to protect civilians and to guarantee that security forces are in control and prevent terrorists from moving between areas,” Gen. al-Moussawi said.

The U.S. military announced last week that it was building a three-mile-long concrete wall in Azamiyah, a Sunni stronghold whose residents have often been the victims of retaliatory mortar attacks by Shi’ite militants following bombings usually blamed on Sunni insurgents.

Mr. al-Maliki ordered construction halted yesterday, and U.S. officials said the plans could change.

“Obviously we will respect the wishes of the government and the prime minister,” U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said today.

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