A Town Becomes a Prison

SINIYAH, Iraq, Jan 20 (IPS) – People of Siniyah town 200 km north of Baghdad are angry over a six-mile long sand wall constructed by the U.S. military to check attacks by rebels.

“Our city has become a battlefield,” 35 year-old engineer Fuad Al-Mohandis told IPS at a checkpoint on the outskirts of the city. “So many of our houses have been destroyed, and the Americans are placing landmines in areas where they think there might be fighters, even though most of the time it is near the homes of innocent civilians.”

Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division have been coming under nearly daily attack from roadside bombs.

Fuad said the U.S. military was now enforcing a curfew from 5pm. He said “so many explosions occur now which terrify our children.”

The U.S. military began to use bulldozers Jan. 7 to build a large sand barrier around the town in an effort to isolate fighters who have been attacking U.S. patrols. Oil pipelines from the area which lead to Turkey have been regularly sabotaged by resistance groups.

The drastic measures have enraged many of the 3,000 residents of the town.

“They think by these measures they can stop the resistance,” Amer, a 43-year-old clerk at the nearby Beji oil refinery told IPS. “But the Americans are creating more resistance by doing these things. The resistance will not stop attacking them unless they pull out of our country.”

The clerk said he had not been able to leave his house for several days, and was unable to work or to visit family members outside Siniyah.

The U.S. military has named the project of building the huge sand wall ‘Operation Verdun’ after a battle from World War I. Occupation forces believe the city has become the main launching pad for attacks on their patrols, as well as mortar attacks on their nearby Summerall Base.

Checkpoints have been set up near the town, with U.S. and Iraqi security forces checking every car for weapons and explosives.

“We can’t work any more, our income depends on distributing fuel,” truck driver Abdul Qadr told IPS at one of the checkpoints. “We are in a very bad situation. The city is isolated now and they are putting barricades everywhere to stop the fighters. Our houses are raided daily while they are searching for foreigners, yet they can’t find any of them.”

Abdul Qadr, who grew up in Siniyah, told IPS he and his neighbours felt they were in a “concentration camp”. That is also how residents of Fallujah and Samarra have described their towns after U.S. forces built similar walls around them.

An 18km long wall has been constructed by the U.S. military in Samarra, while Israeli-style military checkpoints remain in place in Fallujah. The occupation forces have imposed similar measures also in other towns such as Al-Qa’im, Haditha, Ramadi, Balad, and Abu Hishma.

While such security measures have been in place for some time in several towns, the attacks on security forces have only risen, to an average of more than 100 a day over recent months.

“The Americans think the fighters are coming from outside Iraq,” said Qadr. “But they are not. Can’t they see the only real solution is to let the people of a country rule themselves?”