North of Baghdad, not far from the town of Balad, lies the village of Abu Hishma, on a flat plain above a wide bend in the Tigris River. For the last two months, this hamlet of 7,000 has been totally surrounded by razor wire.
After a series of resistance attacks, one of which killed a GI, the local US commander, Lieut. Col. Nathan Sassaman, sealed the village and threatened to deport the residents to a resettlement camp further east if the violence continued. Now the people of Abu Hishma carry special identification cards and abide by a dusk-to-dawn curfew. On top of that, the colonel forced 126 community leaders, family sheiks and less powerful mukhtars, to sign a contract promising that each signatory will submit to incarceration if there is any resistance activity in the neighborhoods under their responsibility.
At the village gate, the mood is one of defeat. "They treat us like Palestinians," complains a farmer, then adds in English: "Sassaman--Ariel Sharon number one." Several Iraqi police are standing nearby but instead of trying to shut down the criticism, join in. "They treat us like dirt. We just take orders from the Americans. The whole thing is ridiculous." Then, breaking into laughter, the cop adds, "Our chief of police is in jail in Balad right now!"
Another razor-wire-surrounded village is Saddam's hometown, Awja, further north near Tikrit. Since the triple layer of wire went up and the residents started carrying new IDs, guerrilla activity has dropped off dramatically.
"Any hajji comes near the wire we shoot 'em. One of our scouts has like fifty-five confirmed kills," explains specialist Keltner, a soldier with the 22nd Infantry who is guarding the checkpoint at the village entrance.
Inside Awja all is quiet, and the few people around seem meek and resigned, but as we leave, the troops at the gate uncover a cache of RPGs. "Fucking Mortar Man!" says a GI, referring to a lone resistance fighter who still plagues them. "This was right on the other side of the berm. They were gonna hit the guard shack," explains the excited soldier.