Crackdown in Samarra

Residents say tight security is making daily life difficult

May 11, 2007|By Garrett Therolf | Garrett Therolf,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD -- U.S. and Iraqi troops have imposed a strict security crackdown in Samarra, a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency, prompting residents to complain that basic necessities such as drinking water have not reached the city for seven days.

The restrictions follow incidents last week when militants linked to al-Qaida in Iraq flew black flags in the streets of the city and a suicide car bomber rammed a car into the police headquarters Sunday, killing 12 officers, including the police chief, Col. Jaleel Nahi Hassoun, and disabling the city's water system.

"Life in the city is unbearable," said Mustafa Abdul-Latee, 38-year-old city worker and father of four. "I get paid on a daily basis, so being unable to work is causing me a big problem. ... I am forced to buy in debt from all the shops, since I don't have money."

Hamad Hmood, the governor of Salahuddin province, who has political authority over the city, said U.S. and Iraqi troops reacted too severely, imposing a vehicle ban against his will in the city of 200,000.

The measures have been taken "probably because they received intelligence information about terrorist threats," Hmood said. He objected to the road closings, saying, "The curfew and the indiscriminate detentions have only exacerbated the situation in the city."

U.S. and Iraqi government forces said in a statement, "Iraqi armed forces have enforced a 24-hour curfew in order to protect the city of Samarra from the cowardly attacks which are being perpetrated by terrorists. Only pedestrians will be allowed. There will not be any vehicular traffic in the city. This curfew is being enforced in order to prevent terrorists from traveling freely around the city."

Dr. Mustafa Abdul Kareem, head of the pediatrics ward at a Samarra hospital, said the lack of fuel for generators has led to equipment failures that killed four children, including two newborns in an incubator. An attempt was made to take the other two children to Tikrit or Kirkuk, but their ambulance was blocked by U.S. and Iraqi troops, he said.

Ambulances have become favored vehicles for car bombs and insurgents in the country.

U.S. and Iraqi security forces frequently stop and search ambulances, even during emergencies. Insurgents also have been known to use ambulances as cover for sneaking fighters and weapons through checkpoints.

The joint statement from U.S. and Iraqi forces said that "Health Ministry officials have ensured that the hospitals have been stocked with important medical materials."

Security forces brought in several large tankers of drinking water in an attempt to alleviate the drinking water shortage.

Also yesterday, radical Shiite politicians pressed for legislation demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops and a freeze on the number of foreign troops in the country.

The proposed legislation, drafted by the parliamentary bloc loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, was signed by 144 of the 275 members, according to parliamentary officials.

Al-Sadr's bloc, which holds 30 parliamentary seats and considers the U.S.-led forces an occupying army, has pushed similar bills before, but it has not persuaded a majority of lawmakers to sign on to the previous ones.

The measure has not been introduced in parliament and is unlikely to pass in its current form. But the signatures reflected growing disenchantment over U.S. involvement in Iraq and the government's failure to curb violence.

Vice President Dick Cheney spent the night 60 miles from Samarra with 12,000 American troops stationed near Tikrit at Camp Speicher.

He vowed to "stay on the offensive" despite growing public opposition in the United States to the war and efforts by the Democratic majority in Congress to restrict spending.

It was the first time Cheney had spent the night in Iraq, and his location was closely guarded by the White House until yesterday's speech to the troops.

Cheney spoke to several thousand mostly Army troops in a huge tent that is scheduled to be used as a gymnasium. He was cheered when he stepped onto the stage but only politely applauded when he talked about deployment extensions.

He left later for a diplomatic mission to the United Arab Emirates after a 29-hour visit to Iraq.

Violence continued unabated in the capital yesterday, where a motorcycle suicide bombing killed two civilians in the Zafarniya district.

Garrett Therolf writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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