BAGHDAD (AFP) — Hundreds of Shiites and Sunnis marched on Wednesday in protest at the building by US troops of a tall concrete wall separating their northwest Baghdad neighbourhoods, an AFP photographer said.
The protesters complained that the wall would promote sectarianism and demanded its removal.
Residents said that US forces last week began building the two-kilometre (1.25 mile) wall along the border of the mainly Shiite al-Shuala and adjoining Sunni-majority al-Ghazaliyah neighbourhoods without consulting them.
The demonstrators -- tribal leaders, clerics and local residents -- marched from one neighbourhood to the other carrying banners reading "No to the dividing wall" and "The wall is US terrorism."
The protesters demanded in a statement that the government intervene to halt the wall and ensure that the section already completed is demolished.
"The wall is in accordance with Al-Qaeda's plans," the statement said, adding that the barrier was being built to "separate family from family."
"The wall is dividing small neighbourhoods and will lead to the partitioning of Iraq," said Hassan al-Taii, a leader of the large Taii Sunni tribe.
He demanded that the Baghdad government destroy the wall and act against those "planting division and sectarianism among Iraqis."
Since early this year, US and Iraqi forces have been erecting walls around or between some Baghdad neighbourhoods in what their commanders call a "concrete caterpillar" designed to protect residents from sectarian violence.
In April the military came under flak when it began constructing a ring of six-tonne (14,000 pounds) concrete blocks around the Sunni Adhamiyah neighbourhood to prevent it from being mortared from the nearby Shiite areas.
Many Iraqis argue that the barricades will only heighten tensions between Sunnis and Shiites by segregating the once mixed city.
During Wednesday's protest, demonstrators carried Iarqi flags and chanted, "No, no to terrorism", and "Yes, yes to unity."
"This wall does not provide security and stability," said Shiite cleric Abdul Baqir al-Subaihawi.
"The government must maintain security in Baghdad rather than separate its neighbourhoods," he added.
Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr has urged artists to paint the concrete barriers springing up around Baghdad with murals showing what he dubbed the "ugly face" of the US military in Iraq.
The Baghdad council has employed professional artists to paint the walls with calming landscapes and scenes depicting Iraq's natural beauty, but Sadr -- a firebrand preacher and militia leader -- had something more dramatic in mind.
"I call on you to draw magnificent tableaux that depict the ugliness and terrorist nature of the occupier, and the sedition, car bombings, blood and the like he has brought upon Iraqis," he said.
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