THE WALL….Here’s the latest on those large concrete things the U.S. Army is building in Baghdad:

U.S. and Iraqi military officials scrambling to deflect criticism of a wall being erected to separate a volatile Sunni Muslim neighborhood from surrounding Shiite areas insisted Monday that the structure is not a wall at all. It’s a barrier.

….Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shiite, said Sunday night that he opposed the project and had ordered it halted.

But Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Qassim Musawi said at a news conference Monday that the project would go on and said Maliki had supported the barrier idea. Opposition arose after exaggerated media reports making the structure sound like the Berlin Wall, the Great Wall of China or the barrier being built by Israel in and around the West Bank, he said.

“There’s a difference between constructing a security barrier and a security wall,” said an infuriated Musawi. “Some media said the security forces will construct a security wall. This is inaccurate and groundless. As I said, these will be barriers.”

Musawi’s distinction between a “wall” and a “barrier” — especially when it’s 12 feet high, constructed of 2,000 pound concrete blocks, and runs three miles with only one public exit point — is obviously specious. And it was the U.S. Army that started the whole “Great Wall” meme anyway.

Nonetheless, Musawi is almost certainly telling the truth when he says that Maliki originally supported the idea and is now folding in the face of public outcry. Whether he’s right to fold like that is almost irrelevant. Either it was a good idea but Maliki didn’t bother building support for the barrier among local leaders, or it was a bad idea and he never should have gone along with it in the first place. If he now flips again and allows the construction to go forward after “consulting” with American military commanders, his remaining credibility will be somewhere south of zero.

Can progress be made in Iraq without credible leadership? The question answers itself. A new military strategy and a few extra battalions in Baghdad do nothing to change that.

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