BAGHDAD, (AP) – The U.S. ambassador to Iraq said Monday that the American 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.
Meanwhile, bombings around Iraq killed at least 27 people and wounded nearly 60, authorities said.
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 protect 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.”
“It is in no one’s intention or thinking that this is going to be a permanent state of affairs,” he added.
Al-Maliki said he has ordered a halt to the U.S. military construction of the barrier Sunday in Cairo, Egypt, as he began a regional tour to shore up support from mostly Sunni Arab nations for his Shiite-dominated government.
The U.S. military announced last week that it was building a three-mile long and 12-foot tall 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.
U.S. 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.
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver declined to comment on whether construction of the wall would stop, saying only that all security measures were constantly under discussion.
“We will coordinate with the Iraqi government and Iraqi commanders in order to establish effective, appropriate security measures,” he said.
The Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party had denounced the wall’s construction earlier Sunday.
“Isolating parts of Baghdad with barbed wire and concrete barriers will inflict social and economic damage and it will lead to more sectarian tension,” it said. “This measure will harm the residents and it will have a negative impact on the areas instead of solving the problems.”
Aides to al-Sadr, who had been a key al-Maliki backer but has since withdrawn his support, also criticized the barrier as an “unacceptable” move by the United States, saying they feared Shiite areas in Baghdad like Sadr City would be next.
On Monday, three suicide bombers in different parts of Iraq killed at least 22 people and wounded more than 50, police and politicians said.
One of the attacks occurred near the northern city of Mosul when a suicide attacker detonated his car in front of an office of the Kurdistan Democratic Party 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, nine miles north of Mosul, said Abdul-Ghani Ali, a KDP official.
A suicide car bomber also struck a police station in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing at least 10 people and wounding 23, police said.
In central Baghdad, a bomber wearing an explosives belt blew himself up in an Iraqi restaurant in the neighborhood of Karradah Mariam, killing at least seven people and wounding 16, police said.
The attack occurred at about 11 a.m. less than 100 yards outside the heavily fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. and British embassies and the Iraqi government’s headquarters. At the time, Crocker was giving a news conference in the Green Zone.