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U.S. troops turn Samarra into “dead city”

Posted By Philippe Khan

An 11-day curfew imposed by U.S. occupation forces in the Iraqi city of Samarra cut it off from the rest of the war-torn country and left its 300,000 residents struggling to survive as supplies of food, medicine and fuel dwindle alarmingly. "There is no electricity, no water, no schools and no hospitals. Samarra has turned into a city for the dead," says Abu Mahmoud, a 65-year-old father of three. 

The curfew was imposed in the mainly Sunni city on May 6 after a bomb attack killed 12 police officers, including the police chief, Abd al-Jalil al-Dulaimi. American and Iraqi troops responded by sealing off the city, closing all entrances with concrete slabs and sand bags. They also imposed very strict restrictions on the movement of people and goods into the city. 

The situation worsened after the failure of the city’s power grid and main water pipe – both were hit by the bomb attack – triggering electricity and water shortages. Doctors in Samarra’s main hospital say patients are dying due to lack of fuel for generators. Ten people, including seven infants, had already died because of lack of fuel to power generators and operate life-saving machinery. 

"The young and the elderly are most at risk. On one day, four new-born babies died because there was no energy to power incubators," a doctor said on condition of anonymity. 

Residents say people are using wooden boats in the Tigris River to ferry food supplies and the wounded to the nearby town of Tikrit. Moreover, U.S. troops turn back aid trucks, further adding to the plight of the city’s residents. Only one truck sent by the provincial council packed by food, fuel and medicine was allowed into the city after intense security searches, but many residents said they received no aid. 

An Iraqi Red Crescent worker from Tikrit said three of his organization’s trucks had been turned away. "The humanitarian situation in Samarra is terrible. Many have already run out of food and hospitals have closed because of an absence in power and medicine," he said. 

An Iraqi humanitarian group, Doctors for Iraq, expressed grave concern over the situation in Samarra, calling for the immediate lifting of movement restrictions, and for local NGOs and health workers to be allowed into the city as soon as possible. "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," it said in a statement. 

The U.S. army admitted that the curfew made life harder for Samarra’s residents, but claimed that the strict measures were necessary. "This curfew ... did cause problems for the people and made living very difficult," U.S. military Captain Aydin Mohtashamian told Reuters. "But it is important to note it was because of the attack that the (local) government imposed these restrictions."

But residents say the historic city has been almost forgotten by the government since a major Shia shrine was bombed in February 2006, an attack that triggered the wave of violence that has pushed Iraq toward a full-blown civil war. Prime Minister Nouri Malili has promised to build the shrine’s golden dome, but construction has not begun. 

Residents now complain that they are “victims of collective punishment," as rebels stepped up attacks against policemen and civilians. "The city is dying and the government is watching," tribal leader Mutashar Hussein said. "This curfew will not help calm the situation because it's a form of collective punishment against innocent residents who have nothing to do with violence." 

Abu Khalid, a 55-year-old businessman and father of five who fled sectarian violence in Baghdad to settle in Samarra, now wants to move again. 

"This punishment resembles a death sentence against an entire population," he said. "I'm really thinking of leaving Iraq even if I had to live in a tent ... at least that's better than this life."


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