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Iraq Blast Kills 9 GIs, Injures 20 At Outpost

U.S. military officials say the walls are meant to protect, not divide, and were designed by both American and Iraqi commanders in the field.

Debate over walling off neighborhoods began last week, when the U.S. military issued a press release about the construction of a three-mile-long, 12-foot-high wall separating Adhamiyah from surrounding Shiite neighborhoods. The partition -- dubbed "The Great Wall of Adhamiyah" by soldiers -- was intended to curb sectarian violence in the area, the statement said.

The barrier quickly drew criticism from Adhamiyah residents, who said it would stoke sectarian tensions by separating them from Shiites and likened it to the barriers Israel has constructed around the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which are much-maligned in the Arab world. Other critics joined the outcry, among them human rights activists and representatives of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, one of whom told reporters in Najaf that the walls amounted to a "siege of the city."

On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told reporters in Cairo that he had ordered a halt to construction of the walls. Maliki was in Egypt for a meeting with Arab leaders. In an interview on the al-Arabiya television network Monday, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh appeared to back away from Maliki's demand, saying only that the government was examining other measures for securing Adhamiyah. He declined to discuss possible alternatives, citing security concerns.

The walls have "political and psychological dimensions," Dabbagh said, speaking to the network from Cairo. "It might solve a security crisis. But it has side effects just like medicine. Medicine has side effects that sometimes can be more harmful than the pain itself."

In Adhamiyah, hundreds of residents protested, shouting and carrying banners that called the barricades a "big prison."

"It is not a solution to turn the city into cantons," one elderly man told television reporters.

Dawood al-Azami, deputy director of the Adhamiyah local council, said 90 percent of respondents to a survey distributed in the neighborhood on Sunday were strongly opposed to the wall, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. military officials say many residents of the city's newly walled-off neighborhoods are pleased with the barriers. Mohammad al-Kabi is one.

Kabi, a building contractor who lives about 500 yards from the Adhamiyah wall, said he saw 20 trailers rumble into the area Sunday night, carrying tall blast barriers to add to the partition. He said he welcomed their arrival.

Checkpoints and road closures already have severed his ties to friends and business partners on the other side of wall, he said. There used to be daily clashes on his street. Now, with the wall going up, he said he feels more protected.

"There are no other options," said Kabi, a Shiite Muslim. "It has reduced the violence. The snipers are not shooting at us anymore."

Correspondents Sudarsan Raghavan and Joshua Partlow in Baghdad, and staff writers Josh White and Thomas E. Ricks in Washington contributed to this report.

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