Sunday, June 15, 2003
U.S. Sweeps Iraqi City for Militia, Arms
By CHRIS TOMLINSON
Associated Press Writer
June 15, 2003, 9:40 AM EDT
FALLUJAH, Iraq -- U.S. soldiers backed by helicopters and tanks raided homes, rounded up suspects and confiscated weapons in the restive town of Fallujah on Sunday, part of a nationwide campaign to root out anti-American insurgents who've been stepping up attacks.
Operation Desert Scorpion, launched Sunday, involves a series of sweeps throughout Iraq using most of the U.S. Army units present in the country, said Army Capt. John Morgan, a spokesman for the Army's V Corps.
"It's a combat operation to defeat the remaining pockets of resistance that are delaying the transition to a peaceful and stable Iraq," Morgan said.
Iraqi families complained of heavy-handed tactics by the 1,300 troops who carried out the raids in Fallujah, a town that has shown the strongest. Some said troops broke into homes and arrested people with no involvement in attacks on American forces.
Jassim Ali Mohammed, 60, said 20 troops raided his house in the middle of the night, handcuffed his two sons and forced them to lie face down on the ground, later taking them away.
He said soldiers also took documents and even some children's school books.
"I'm 60 years old and I have nothing to do with all this. Even Saddam never did a thing like this to us. We got rid of one problem and now we're having a bigger one," said Mohammed, turning his face to wipe away tears.
To defuse animosity, troops followed up their assault by delivering humanitarian supplies, including school books, medicine and even teddy bears. Major humanitarian deliveries would be made throughout Sunday, officials said.
No American or Iraqi casualties were reported in the operation involving soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade. The sweep -- one of the largest since major combat was declared over May 1 -- met no resistance and lasted three hours.
Participating in Operation Desert Scorpion are the Army's 3rd and 4th Infantry Divisions, the 101st Airborne Division, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Armored Division and some U.S. Air Force Units, Morgan said.
He added that the raids across Iraq are often made "using specific intelligence to go after specific targets.
"To the best of our ability we're trying to limit the number of innocent bystanders caught up in this," he said.
The nationwide sweep aimed to seize militants and unauthorized arms following the end of a deadline for Iraqis to turn in any weapons heavier than an assault rifle.
Nearly 50 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the end of the war. Many of the attacks have taken place in the area north and west of Baghdad known as the "Sunni triangle," where some people remain loyal to the ousted, Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein.
Of the Sunni cities, Fallujah has been the most openly volatile: Residents have made no secret of their rage since U.S. troops fired on crowds in April, killing 18 and wounding at least 78 in two confrontations.
Residents of Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, were alerted of an impending operation Sunday from fellow citizens who blared announcements from mosque loudspeakers. During the raid, they sounded sirens and flashed porch lights in apparent warnings to each other that American troops were coming.
The sweep -- codenamed "Spartan Scorpion" in Fallujah -- began at about 3 a.m., hours after the weapons deadline passed.
Soldiers targeted 16 buildings where officers said intelligence reports showed militia operations were under way or weapons stockpiled for use against U.S. forces.
Troops arrested seven people from a single location suspected of being major figures in the resistance to the U.S.-led occupation. They were found with weapons, bombs, bomb-making materials and communications equipment, said Col. David Perkins, the brigade commander. An eighth armed man was arrested for violating the curfew.
With OH-1 KIOWA observation helicopters whirring overhead, one company of about 100 soldiers searched 12 farm houses in the northwest side of the city. Soldiers rousted the residents from their beds, including women and children sleeping outside in the cool night air.
Hamid Mukhlif, 69, said about 30 armor-backed troops raided the school where he works as a security guard around 3:30 a.m.
Mukhlif, who sat with dozens of other residents at the mayor's office after the raid, said he was handcuffed, ordered to lie face down on the ground, then told to stand with his face against a light pole.
"They didn't find anything except my rifle, which they allowed me to keep," he said.
Within an hour after dawn, the streets of Fallujah were filled with normal traffic, weaving alongside convoys of American Humvees and Bradley armored vehicles.
The raid against Fallujah followed an extensive action last week against towns in the "Sunni triangle." About 60 of the 400 people detained during that search-and-seizure operation remained in custody for further interrogation, the U.S. Central Command said.
Those in custody included former Iraqi generals of Saddam Hussein's army -- Maj. Gen. Abul Ali Jasmin, the secretary of the defense ministry, and Brig. Gen. Abdullah Ali Jasmin, head of the Iraqi military academy.
Hoping to offset ill will from the Fallujah raid, a massive delivery of medical and school supplies, food and toys began moving into the town after dawn.
Outside the school district office, an American army truck guarded by soldiers was unloading 2,000 meals of rice, crackers, beans and bread. "We don't need their help. Our homes are full of food," said Khalil Khaneif, an administrator of the boy's secondary school next door.
Copyright (c) 2003, The Associated Press
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