In an attempt to maintain security inside the country, and to prevent extremists from so easily crossing the long, porous border between Iraq and Syria, the Iraqi government is going to trial a security fence in Anbar. It will be 20 kilometres long and located in the Al Qaim area, west of Baghdad and right on the Syrian border.
The fence will consist of three different barriers: A six-meter-wide trench that is also three meters deep, barbed wire and then a dirt road on top of a three-meter high mound. There will also be observation towers along the route, equipped with surveillance cameras.
Right now, extremists and others are simply using unpatrolled desert roads as a back door into Iraq.
It sounds like a nice idea. But it won’t do anything, locals say.
“These measures are a waste of time, effort and money,” says Abdul Rahman Yassin, a retired military officer who lives in Ramadi, one of Anbar’s larger cities. “Barriers made of concrete or soil need to be accompanied by sophisticated technology. We also need better intelligence, that is aimed at countering any efforts to break through the barriers,” he argues.
The security forces that have fought extremist groups in this area since 2003 are well aware that their enemy has some advanced technology too, Yassin says. “If we deal with the enemy with traditional and old fashioned methods, then that is simply a betrayal of the security forces,” he concludes.
But it’s better than doing nothing, local officials counter. Right now, extremists and others are simply using unpatrolled desert roads as a back door into Iraq.
“There is no doubt that danger enters Iraq from beyond the border, with the support of sleeper cells inside the country,” says Imad al-Dulaimi, the mayor of Rutba, a town about 450 kilometres west of Baghdad near the Syrian border. “Now that the Islamic State group have been pushed out of Iraq, it is important to pay attention to the border areas – especially those with Syria – which still pose a threat.”
Building a fence like this is a pretty simple solution to a complex problem, al-Dulaimi conceded. “But it is also an attempt to confound the enemy and to reduce his ability to deploy in this area, especially in Anbar.”
Iraqi military at the current border fence in Anbar.
The first trial of the fence will probably mostly benefit the city of Al Qaim and the mayor there, Ahmed al-Mahalawi, says that although the security fence is a little late and little primitive, it does “contribute to the protection of the border”.
The local security forces, who are involved in building the 20-kilometre stretch of fence alongside engineers, are a little more optimistic.
Anwar Hamid Nayef, the spokesperson for the border guards in the area, says everyone is looking forward to proving this trial version of the border fence a success.
Eventually the fence could stretch the whole way along the border. “The feasibility and effectiveness of this project will first be assessed and then the rest will be built with the approval of the Iraqi Ministry of Defence and the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State group,” he told NIQASH. Adding that the estimated cost of the whole fence would be up to IQD4 billion (around US$3.3 million).
Ordinary residents in the area remain divided about the plan. Some think that it’s a good idea but wonder if it will actually be completed, or abandoned like so many other development projects in Iraq.
Saadi Abdul Ghafoor, a 46-year-old farmer whose land is adjacent to the banks of the Euphrates, says he was pleased when he saw the construction machinery arrive. Even though the new fence would take up some of his land, he was happy about it.
“But when I saw the machines digging the trenches and pulling the barbed wire, I realised that this was not going to bring anything new,” he told NIQASH. There’s been a similar attempt to fence the border before and Ghafoor says the new one is simply being built in the same place as the old one, which collapsed and eroded. He’s not sure the new fence will do much better than its predecessor.