Tue, Apr 24, 2007 - Page 7 News List

US to respect Iraq's wishes on building of Azamiyah barrier

STOP? US Ambassador Ryan Crockers stopped short, however, of calling a halt to the project, which hwe said was meant to protect, not segregate


The US ambassador to Iraq said yesterday that the US military will "respect the wishes" of the Iraqi government regarding a barrier being built around a Sunni enclave in Baghdad, but he stopped short of saying construction would stop.

US Ambassador Ryan Crocker spoke at a news conference a day after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he had ordered the building of the barrier in Azamiyah to stop after the project drew strong criticism from residents and Sunni leaders.

"Obviously we will respect the wishes of the government and the prime minister," Crocker said at a news conference. "I'm not sure where we are right now concerning our discussions on how to move forward on this particular issue."

But he defended the principle behind the Azamiyah barrier, saying it was aimed at protecting the community, not segregating it.

As he spoke, hundreds of Iraqis took to the streets in the area in northern Baghdad to protest the wall's construction, which residents have complained would isolate them from the rest of the city.

Crocker said the intention of the barrier in Azamiyah as well as those constructed around markets in the capital is "to try and identify where the fault lines are and where avenues of attack lie and set up the barriers literally to prevent those attacks."

Al-Maliki said he has ordered a halt to the US military construction of the barrier on Sunday in Cairo, as he began a regional tour to shore up support from mostly Sunni Arab nations for his Shiite-dominated government.

The US military announced last week that it was building a 5km long and 3.6m all concrete wall in Azamiyah, a Sunni stronghold whose residents have often been the victims of retaliatory mortar attacks by Shiite militants following bombings usually blamed on Sunni insurgents.

US and Iraqi officials defended plans for the barrier as an effort to protect the neighborhood, but residents and Sunni leaders complained it was a form of discrimination that would isolate the community.

Meanwhile, three suicide bombers in different parts of the nation killed at least 27 people and wounded nearly 60 yesterday, police and politicians said.

One of the attacks occurred near the northern city of Mosul at 10:10am when a suicide attacker detonated his car in front of an office of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Massoud Barzani, leader of the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, an official with the group said. At least 10 people were killed and 20 wounded in the attack in Tal Uskuf, 15km north of Mosul, said Abdul-Ghani Ali, a KDP official.

A suicide car bomber also struck a police station in Baqubahat about 11am, killing at least 10 people and wounding 23, police said.

In central Baghdad, a bomber wearing an explosives belt blew himself up in a restaurant in the neighborhood of Karradah Mariam, killing at least seven people and wounding 16, police said.

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