Curfew Begins to Choke Samarra

SAMARRA — At least 10 residents have died as the result of a curfew imposed by the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, local doctors say.

Residents in this city of 300,000 located 125km north of Baghdad have been struggling to find food, water and medical supplies. Vehicles have been banned from entering or leaving the city since May 6.

The Iraqi government and the U.S. military imposed a strict curfew on the city that day after a suicide car bomb killed a dozen police officers, including police chief Abd al-Jalil al-Dulaimi. Samarra has been a hotspot of resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq since close to the beginning of the occupation in March 2003.

After the attack, U.S. and Iraqi forces encircled the city and sealed off all entrances with concrete blocks and sand bags.

Local people told IPS that the main bridge in the city has been closed, ambulances have not been allowed to reach people, and residents are facing an increasingly dire situation.

“We are being butchered here by these Americans,” Majid Hamid, a schoolteacher in Samarra told IPS. “People are dying because we lack all of the necessities, and our government seems to be so happy about it.”

Residents and service providers told IPS that electricity has been cut.

“There is no life in the city because of the collective punishments,” an employee in the electricity service office of Samarra, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. “Depriving people of electricity means depriving them of water, healthcare and all of life’s maintenance necessities, especially with such hot temperatures now.”

The power grid and water supply in Samarra were already in a state of disrepair.

Both IPS correspondents have been in the city several times throughout the occupation and witnessed first-hand the U.S. military tactics of cutting water and electricity to residents after occupation forces had been attacked. U.S. and Iraqi military tactics have also included bulldozing houses, home raids and detentions.

“This is not the first siege that we have suffered,” Nahla Alwan, a pharmacist in the city told IPS. “The Americans have done this so often and they will keep doing it since we do not accept their occupation and all the disasters it has brought us.”

She added, “They should know that we resent them more now, and we will teach the future generations to take revenge for the innocent souls killed by the American criminals.”

A doctor in Samarra’s main hospital, speaking like many others on condition of anonymity, told IPS that at least 10 people, including seven babies, had died because of lack of fuel for generators needed to run incubators and life-saving equipment. At least two elderly patients were among the dead.

Despite pleas from residents to U.S. and Iraqi forces to allow in aid, none has arrived and the curfew continues.

“My 10-month-old nephew died of asthma because we could not take him to the hospital,” 25-year-old Nameer Aboud from the Abbasiya quarter of Samarra told IPS.

“All medical services are paralysed because of this siege applied on Samarra, and many people are dying. If this had happened anywhere else in the world, it would have been considered murder, but for the world Iraqi blood is cheap.”

“This collective punishment is unfair and it clearly shows how cruel Americans are,” a member of Samarra’s city council told IPS. “They are punishing innocent people in a cowardly way.”

The Iraqi humanitarian group Doctors for Iraq has issued a statement expressing grave concern about the worsening situation.

“Doctors for Iraq condemns in the strongest terms any activities that prevent civilians from accessing healthcare or humanitarian assistance by all actors engaged in the conflict,” the group said.

The doctors demanded immediate end to the blockade, which they called “an act of collective punishment.” They called for local NGOs and health workers to be allowed access to the city.

A spokesperson for the U.S. military in Iraq admitted to reporters that the security measures imposed on Samarra had “made living very difficult,” but claimed that “local authorities” had imposed them.

But the IPS correspondent saw several U.S. military vehicles around the city, and earlier U.S. military personnel setting up roadblocks at the beginning of the siege.

“Those cowards are enjoying killing our children and so are the Persian (Prime Minister Nouri) Maliki government officials,” 45-year-old Abu Nabhan in Samarra told IPS. “They seem to be in need of further attacks from our blessed sons in the resistance because this attack on the people of Samarra will only increase our hatred against the Americans.”

Residents are becoming ever more angry with the occupation forces.

“The situation is getting much worse because of this irresponsible behaviour of the U.S. forces,” a worker with a local NGO who gave his name as Yassin told IPS. “They are raising more anger and inclination for violence. All our efforts to calm the people are wasted now as more people than ever believe in violence instead of peace.”

*(Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region)