Iraq: US walls off towns with sand berms

From Reuters, Jan. 10:

U.S. soldiers fed up with almost daily bomb attacks on their patrols near Iraq’s main oil refinery are taking drastic measures to fight their shadowy enemy — they’re walling in an entire town.

Army bulldozers have begun building giant sand embankments around Siniya, a town of 50,000 close to the northern oil refining city of Baiji. When finished it will be 10 km (6 miles) long and more than 2 meters (nearly 8 feet) high.

The U.S. army says it is to keep insurgents out and that it is being built with the agreement of local police, town council members and religious leaders, who complain that Siniya is being used as a safe haven by insurgents.

But some angry residents, including the head of the city council, complain it appears designed to keep residents in.

“We oppose the building of this wall because it makes the city looks like a detention center,” said Nima al-Kawaz, the head of the city council.

The U.S. military hopes to repeat the success of a similar berm or sand wall that was built in August around Samarra, 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, to stop insurgents from entering the city. It says violence there has since dropped off sharply.

Similar barriers have been built elsewhere in Iraq.

“I think this wall is good because it will prevent the terrorists from entering the city (Siniya). This is being done with the agreement of the sheikhs of the tribes, city council and police,” U.S. Captain Christopher Judge, who is overseeing construction of the wall, told Reuters.

Siniya is about 15 km (10 miles) west of Baiji, home to Iraq’s main refinery. Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division patrol the area.

See our last post on Iraq.