updated 5/12/2007 9:57:27 PM ET 2007-05-13T01:57:27

Iraq’s parliament objected Saturday to the construction of walls around Baghdad neighborhoods and called on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to testify about other security issues.

Construction of the walls — particularly in the Baghdad neighborhood of Azamiyah — has been criticized by residents and Sunni clerics who say it is a form of sectarian discrimination. Even followers of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr complained, fearing their strongholds in the capital will soon be split by the barriers.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have defended the construction of the barriers, which began last month, as a temporary measure to protect the neighborhood during the 12-week-old security crackdown in Baghdad. 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 was made in coordination with the Iraqis.

Tempers flare
Parliament took up the issue Saturday in a raucous session that included debate on the continuing U.S. military presence in Iraq, security raids and human rights abuses. Lawmakers interrupted each other and speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhdani struggled to maintain order.

“They (security walls) don’t protect residents because these areas are shelled by mortars and Katyusha rockets. ... Will they build roofs too?” said Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman. “We must build bridges between the different groups, not build walls to separate them.”

The resolution, voted on by a show of hands, passed 138-to-88 in the 275-member house. The president and his two deputies must unanimously approve the legislation for it to become law, or else it will be sent back to the house for re-examination.

Last month, al-Maliki, a Shiite, said he had ordered a halt to the construction in Azamiyah, but his aides later said he was responding to exaggerated media reports and that construction would continue.

Concern about spike in violence
The house was about to vote on another resolution, this time to ban American forces from Baghdad, when officials announced the house no longer had a quorum.

The house also decided to summon al-Maliki and the defense and interior ministers to address other security issues, particularly in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad where there has been a spike in attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The commander of U.S. troops in northern Iraq, Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, told Pentagon reporters Friday that he does not have enough troops to crush insurgents in Diyala and that he had asked for more.

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