Friday, April 27, 2007

The Great Wall of Indifference

Combat Outpost Fort Apache, Azamiyah. The news of late has focused upon this Sunni district in northeast Baghdad, where materials for a 12-foot-high concrete barrier have been positioned along a main avenue. Of the dozens of barriers across the city being laid down—principally by U.S. military and contractors—Azamiyah was the one that caught international attention when the residents complained the government was "imprisioning and punishing them for the acts of a few" by forcing all cars to pass through check points. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, on a visit to Egypt, ordered the barrier halted, and the American ambassador agreed to comply.

On the surface, the episode is a triumph for the press in bringing to international attention an injustice, and for the prime minister in immediately responding and standing up for the rights of the Sunni minority.

On the ground, the episode is less inspiring. Here at Fort Apache in Azamiyah, Charlie Company is on the eighth month of a 15-month tour in a combat outpost along the Tigris. (It was the setting for the 2005 documentary Gunner Palace.) Six of the first 110 soldiers to patrol in Azamiyah, a stronghold for Sunni insurgents and al-Qaida operatives, have been killed.

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