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U.S. Troops Build Wall of Sand in Iraq

RYAN LENZ, Associated Press Writer


Sat Jan 7, 1:50 PM ET

SINIYAH, Iraq - Villagers watched from rooftops as U.S. military bulldozers heaved a wall of sand into snaking lines around their homes Saturday in an attempt to trap insurgents believed to be hiding among them.

The drastic tactic in Siniyah came after weeks of increasingly bold insurgent attacks, including almost daily roadside bombs targeting 101st Airborne Division soldiers patrolling the village, 155 miles north of Baghdad.

"This is not in any of the courses they teach in the Army," said Maj. Shawn Daniel, who oversees operations for the 3rd Brigade's 33rd Cavalry Regiment. "But if bad people are coming to Siniyah to attack coalition forces, let's catch them at the gate."

Spanning six miles and broken by watchtowers to be manned by Iraqi security forces, the 10-foot tall crude barrier is the Army's latest tool to rout out insurgents.

Construction was expected to last several days. Once complete, all vehicles leaving or entering the village will be stopped as soldiers look for known insurgents, bomb-making materials and illegal weapons.

Dubbed "Operation Verdun," after a famous World War I battle, the 3rd Brigade decided to blockade the village after determining it had become a staging point for insurgents to plan and execute their attacks.

The village of a few thousand people in the volatile so-called Sunni triangle is less than a mile from a former Iraqi airfield that coalition forces named Forward Operating Base Summerall Ś now home to units from the 3rd Brigade.

Roadside bombs have hit convoys and patrols around Siniyah at a rate of about one every two days since early December, officials said. Two soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, also known as the "Rakkasans," died last Sunday in roadside explosions outside Siniyah.

Mortar attacks also have become increasingly familiar inside the Summerall base, often falling just after sunset or before sunrise when locals know soldiers congregate in large numbers to eat.

One soldier died last month during an early morning mortar attack.

Insurgents also have attacked tanker trucks from the Beiji oil refinery Ś one of the largest in
Iraq Ś about five miles outside Summerall.

The wall's purpose in Siniyah "is to separate insurgents from the population," said Capt. Christopher Judge, of Milford, N.H., as he oversaw construction on Friday. "We're trying to make it very difficult for them to enter and leave."

The Army has seen the success that restricting access to Iraqi cities can bring.

Similar "walls" built around Fallujah and Samarra in recent months have quelled restive insurgent cells. Army commanders in Samarra said the number of attacks dropped drastically after an 11-mile barrier was built around the city.

Reaction to the wall has been mixed among villagers in Siniyah.

The police chief supported the idea when U.S. Army officials met with him last week, as did Iraqi army officers and sheiks who asked for help in stopping insurgents from using their village.

Local agricultural shop owner Saad Mohammed said he backed the construction so that "no strangers or intruders can enter the town and start acts of violence ... (this) will provide us with security to open our shops and avoid the curfews imposed after every attack."

But the imam at the village mosque compared the constant watch envisaged under the new plan to a concentration camp.

The U.S. Army told the village of the operation just hours before it began and planned to broadcast Arabic messages over loudspeakers until the wall is complete.

Army officials acknowledge insurgents could safely leave in the meantime and seek refuge elsewhere. But that risk was worth taking, said Judge, a commander in the division's 187th Infantry Regiment whose company frequently patrols Siniyah. Judge said insurgents in Iraq hide in villages throughout the countryside and can disappear easily.

But if they are moving, they are losing, he said.

:: Article nr. 19382 sent on 08-jan-2006 02:45 ECT


Link: news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060107/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq_wall_of_sand;_ylt=AgExQ2BDrHJJn

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