Senior US military officials said the wall was not intended to divide the capital into separate communities but was part of a two-month-old security crackdown.
The wall is designed to prevent Shia death squads from launching attacks to drive out the Sunnis, and to prevent Sunni fighters from using the pocket as a base for raids and bombing runs into Shia areas.
Captain Marc Sanborn, a military engineer from the 82nd Airborne Division, in a statement released earlier in the week, said: "The idea is to curb some of the self-sustaining violence by controlling who has access to the neighbourhoods."
The area is to become what the US military called a "gated community" and traffic control points manned by Iraqi soldiers will be the only way in and out of Adhamiyah once the wall was finished.
"The chances of success [in Iraq] are essentially zero because the Iraqi people have no voice"
Non Sequitur, Cadiz, Spain
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Adhamiyah residents, however, are unconvinced and many fiercely oppose the idea. Um Haider, a 54-year-old housewife living on the inside of the barrier, said it was a "weird idea".
She said: "I'm astonished by the way officials think. Is that reasonable? Protecting al-Adhamiyah by segregating it from adjacent neighbourhoods?
"Erecting concrete walls between neighbourhoods is not a solution to the collapse in security and the rampant violence. If so, Baghdadis would find themselves in a maze of high walls overnight."
Ahmed al-Dulaimi, a 41-year-old engineer who lives in the area, said the wall would turn the district into a "prison".
He said: "They are going to punish all of us because of a few terrorists here and there."
"We are in our fourth year of occupation and we are seeing the number of walls increasing day after day, suffocating the people more and more."
US and Iraqi forces have long erected cement barriers around marketplaces and military bases and outposts in Baghdad as well as in Ramadi and other Iraqi cities, in an effort to prevent attacks.
But the Adhamiyah project appears to be the biggest effort ever to use a lengthy wall in Baghdad to break contact, and violence, between Sunnis and Shia.
No council approval
Ibrahim, an Adhamiyah resident who works at the interior ministry, said: "This is good if it is temporary, to help the area with security problems. But if this wall stays for the long term, it will be a catastrophe for the residents and will restrict our movements."
|US soldiers jokingly call the barrier the "Great Wall of Adhamiyah" [AFP]|
Community leaders said on Saturday that construction began before they had approved the American proposal for the wall.
Dawood al-Azami, the acting head of the Adhamiyah council, said: "A few days ago, we met with the US army unit in charge of Adhamiyah and it asked us, as a local council, to sign a document to build a wall to reduce killing and attacks against Iraqi and US forces.
"I told the soldiers that I would not sign it unless I could talk to residents first. We told residents at Friday prayers, but our local council hasn't signed onto the project yet, and construction is already under way."
US soldiers however jokingly call it the "Great Wall of Adhamiyah", they say it is more akin to the fenced suburbs around US cities.