Iraqi troops monitor an area west of the shrine city of Karbala, in central Iraq, June 29, 2014.
Iraqi troops monitor an area west of the shrine city of Karbala, in central Iraq, June 29, 2014.

CAIRO - Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated government and officials in the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala are building a wall to defend their city from nearby Sunni-dominated Anbar province.  In recent months, Iraq's Sunni leaders have decried a similar government project to build a wall around the capital, Baghdad.   

Earthmovers dig trenches and pile rock onto makeshift barriers around the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, in a project Sunni political leaders describe as a wall to surround the city.

Arab media report that a similar project has started around the Shi'ite shrine town of Karbala from Sunni-inhabited regions of Anbar province.

The deputy governor of Karbala province, Jassem Fetlawi, told Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper that local authorities have “begun digging a 40 kilometer trench along administrative boundaries with (nearby) Anbar province to prevent terrorists from entering (Karbala).”

Iraqi forces secure an area in Ramadi, the capital
Iraqi forces secure an area in Ramadi, the capital of Iraq's Anbar province, on January 10, 2016, after retaking the city from Islamic State (IS) group jihadists.

Islamic State militants, which control Anbar province's second-largest city of Fallujah, were pushed back from the periphery of Karbala, late last year.  Shi'ite volunteer militia fighters successfully defended Karbala, which is the site of a historic battle between rival Sunni and Shi'ite armies in 680 AD.

Prominent Sunni leader Salah al-Mutlaq, who represents Anbar province in parliament, tells Iraqi media that building walls around Iraqi cities will not stop terrorism.

He says the idea of building walls or barriers around cities is a mistake, because crime and terrorism know no boundaries.  Terrorism he argues hides in many corners of society.

But prominent Shi'ite leader and former defense ministry spokesman General Abdel Karim Khalaf insists the government plan is necessary.

He says a failure to prevent Islamic State from entering Iraqi cities will give the group free rein to mount attacks inside those cities.

The director of the Fares Center at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Nadim Shehadi, tells VOA that Arab cities have historically had walls.

"Building walls is the wrong strategy, nowadays," he said. "It may have worked in medieval times, but now people have to work out ways of living together and not becoming a threat to each other. In the day of missiles and airplanes, walls will not protect you.  A formula for coexistence will protect everybody.”

Iraqi officials say the project to build a wall around Karbala will cost $13 million.  Security cameras and observation towers are to be built into the barrier.

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