A senior U.S. commander was wounded by small arms fire while inspecting a security barrier being built around a Sunni enclave in Baghdad, the U.S. military said Friday.
The attack occurred Thursday in Azamiyah, an area on the eastern side of the Tigris River whose residents have been victims of retaliatory mortar attacks by Shiite militants _ often following bombings blamed on Sunnis. The shooting was witnessed by an Associated Press Television cameraman.
A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, said the commander's family has been notified, but he declined to release the officer's name.
Construction of the wall has drawn strong criticism from residents who say it is a form of sectarian discrimination. Followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr say they fear Shiite areas in Baghdad, such as Sadr City, will be next to see the U.S.-built barriers.
Much of the construction is being done at night by troops wearing night-vision goggles. But the officer was wounded while conducting a daytime survey.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have defended the barrier's construction, which began last month, as a temporary measure to protect the neighborhood as part of a citywide security crackdown.
Last month, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, said he had ordered a halt to the construction of the wall, saying "there are other methods to protect neighborhoods" and "this wall reminds us of other walls that we reject."
But his security aides later said he was responding to exaggerated reports in the media and that construction would continue.
When the wall is finished, Azamiyah will be gated and checkpoints manned by Iraqi soldiers will be the only entries, the U.S. military said, stressing that the decision had been made in coordination with the Iraqis.
For years, U.S. and Iraqi forces have erected cement barriers around marketplaces and coalition bases and outposts in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities to prevent attacks. U.S. forces also have built huge sand barriers around towns such as Tal Afar, an insurgent stronghold near the Syrian border.
Source: AP News