SINIYAH (Iraq): Twice now, an IPS correspondent has been refused entry to this town that has become a prison for its inhabitants. Contact with residents of the town came only at the checkpoint.

A month back, the United States military built a 10 kilometre wall of sand around the town of Siniyah, 220km north of Baghdad. The town is close to Saddam Hussein’s hometown Tikrit and the oil refining centre at Beiji.

Construction of a sand wall around the town began on January 7 in response to repeated attacks against the 101st Airborne US forces stationed in the area. A night curfew has been imposed in the area.

An IPS correspondent could not visit the town to look at the situation within, despite official claims.

“Journalists have not been limited or prevented from travelling in and around Siniyah,” US military spokesman Major Tim Keefe told IPS. “Coalition and Iraqi Forces go to great lengths to make sure journalists are able to do their job in a safe environment.”

That was after soldiers stopped the IPS correspondent entering the town on two occasions. But in the queue to the main checkpoint many people were more than willing to speak to IPS about the situation within.

“On the 7th of January, the US troops started building this wall around Siniyah,” said Mohammed, a 34-year-old engineer from Siniyah. “They are trying to isolate Iraqi fighters who are attacking them every day. The troops have been exposed to attacks near Siniyah by roadside bombs and by different weapons... Also, the resistance blows up the petrol pipelines leading to Turkey.”

The issue of the pipeline is a salient one for residents of Siniyah. The town has been sealed off not because of attacks within the town, but due to the belief it is being used as a staging ground for attacks outside... The coalition forces are attempting to halt attacks directed mainly at the Beiji refinery and at convoys serving the coalition.

The chosen targets have brought general support for Iraqi resistance within Siniyah. Mohammed says the attacks are taking place because “this petrol will go to Turkey and is stolen by occupation forces, or when Turkey buys this petrol the money is taken by the occupation forces.”

Residents of Siniyah speak also of injustices by the occupation troops. The wall of sand is now dividing residents from the Iraqi government, they say.

“Siniyah has become a real battlefield now, and the occupation forces have destroyed many of our homes,” said Sumiya, a 33-year-old housewife. “There is no security inside Siniyah and it is worse than any place in Iraq now. The occupation forces and Iraqi National Guard are raiding Siniyah houses everyday and arresting many people. There is a curfew from 5pm to 5am; in Baghdad it is only midnight to 5am.”

Sumiya said her children have stopped going to school. Everyone in the town is affected. “My problem is that my college is outside Siniyah, and it is very difficult for me to go back and forth everyday with these checkpoints,” said a 20-year-old student who gave his name as Ammar.

“I left my job because it was outside Siniyah, it is impossible to go and come back every day because of this earth wall and these checkpoints on the way,” said 45-year-old Abdullah Jabar.

The US forces say the wall was built with local approval. “Local police, city council members, sheikhs and religious leaders met with leaders from the 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment 101st Airborne Division, Air Assault, to discuss the operation,” Major Keefe said. He declined to comment on the specifics of the negotiations.

As the isolation of Siniyah continues, its 3,000 residents appear to be unifying behind the opposition. “I don’t think that the occupation force will stop resistance by these steps, because violence causes violence,” Ammar said. “It is normal throughout history there is resistance in any occupied country. But there is no occupation that used this kind of violence.”

“We are in very bad situation and we live in very big jail for three thousand, one called Siniyah,” said Jabar, echoing sentiments of residents interviewed by IPS last month.

The Multi National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) have used such tactics before. Walls and checkpoints were used to isolate residents of Samarra and Fallujah before the eventual devastation of the towns.—Dawn/IPS News Service

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