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US Troops Smash Open Homes to Hunt Iraqi Militants
Sat Jun 21, 9:09 AM ET
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By Andrew Gray

RAMADI, Iraq (Reuters) - They rammed their vehicles into metal gates to smash them open, rounded up Iraqi men from their homes at gunpoint and wrote a code on their arms with marker pens.

Hundreds of U.S. soldiers from the First Battalion of the 124th Infantry Regiment staged the raid in a suburb of Ramadi, 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad, after sunrise on Saturday.

The raid on the homes of suspected guerrillas was part of a campaign to stamp out mounting armed resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Several soldiers on the raid were wounded by a grenade and came under gunfire in the same district around 10 days earlier.

Some were clearly braced for trouble as they returned to the area, leaving their base after a blast over loudspeakers of Wagner's rousing "Ride of the Valkyries" -- a favorite with troops for its use in the Vietnam war film "Apocalypse Now."

One unit of soldiers pulled half a dozen men from their homes as women wailed in distress. The troops wrote a code in marker pen on each man's skin and on confiscated possessions.

They removed a handful of weapons and a computer hard disk.

Two helicopters with thermal imaging equipment whirred above the neighborhood of modest, angular houses.

U.S. forces have frequently come under fire in towns west and north of the capital since ousting Saddam Hussein in April. Those areas are dominated by Sunni Muslims, some of whom had close ties to Saddam's mainly Sunni ruling elite.

"They're getting too powerful," battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Hector Mirabile of Miami, Florida, said of the raid's targets. "It's time for them to stop."

Officers said they aimed to capture at least five members of the Fedayeen paramilitary force, which put up some of the fiercest resistance to U.S. troops in their invasion and has been blamed for continuing attacks since Saddam's fall.

The raid was part of Operation Desert Scorpion, launched by the U.S. military on June 15. A U.S. military spokesman said 90 raids had netted 540 suspects in the operation, which also aims to befriend civilians with aid and reconstruction projects.


"You got one on the roof!" one soldier yelled as his colleagues aimed their rifles at a building and looked for suspects. "It's a kid! It's a kid!" another shouted urgently as he realized a figure emerging from the house was just a boy.

Two blasts echoed through the neighborhood seven minutes apart. Soldiers said one was caused by a grenade, the other by troops blowing open a door. No casualties were reported.

The troops used plastic strips to bind the hands of men found in the target houses. A hood was placed over the head of a barefoot man in jogging trousers and a green T-shirt.

A final tally of the suspects and weapons seized was not immediately available as officers began trying to identify who they had detained and establish if they were wanted men.

Captain Ricardo Roig, also from Miami, said it could take a while to check people against a wanted list stored on computer because of problems transliterating names from Arabic.

"If they're not on the list, they'll be brought back here and any damage we've done will be reimbursed," said Roig, 40.

The soldiers searched other houses in the neighborhood but said they would use force only on the suspects' homes.

"They knocked on my door and I opened it," said Ghani Alawi, a local council employee sitting in the street. He said the troops had treated him correctly so far.

One soldier said the Ramadi area was "rough, tough and depressing sometimes." Another said he wanted to tell the Iraqi people they could be rich and live peacefully with the Americans if they would "just quit shooting at us."

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