(Agencies): US troops psyched up on a bizarre musical reprise
from Vietnam war film "Apocalypse Now" before crashing into
Iraqi homes to hunt gunmen on Saturday, as Shi'ite Muslims
rallied against the US occupation of Iraq.
strains of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" still ringing in
their ears and the clatter of helicopters overhead, soldiers
rammed vehicles into metal gates and hundreds of troops raided
houses in the western city of Ramadi after sunrise as part of
a drive to quell a spate of attacks on US forces. A previously
unknown group, calling itself the Iraqi National Front of
Fedayeen, vowed to intensify assaults on American troops until
they leave Iraq.
A man with his face swathed in a
red-and-white headscarf read the threat on a videotape
received by Lebanon's LBC television. There was no way to
verify its authenticity. "If they want their soldiers to be
safe, they must leave our pure land," the man said, disavowing
any link to Saddam Hussein. He was flanked by three masked men
with weapons. Iraqi assailants have killed 17 US soldiers
since major combat was declared over on May 1, three weeks
after the fall of Baghdad ended 24 years of Saddam Hussein's
US officials blame the attacks on diehard
Saddam loyalists. Many Iraqis say the resistance is fuelled by
resentment at the occupation and the behaviour of US troops.
"The Americans are occupiers and aggressors," said Sayyid Ali,
one of about 2,000 Shi'ites who protested outside the vast
palace compound in Baghdad now used by Iraq's US rulers. "They
were supposed to free us from the oppressor, now they are only
occupying us," he said. "We want to form a national
government. We want freedom and justice."
There was no
repeat of the violence that erupted on the same spot on
Wednesday, when US troops killed two Iraqis during a protest
by stone-throwing former soldiers thrown out of work by a US
decree dissolving the Iraqi military.
we had no medicine. It was all in this palace," said Mohammed
Obeid, sheltering from the fierce sun. "Now it's the same,
except the Americans are in the palace." The United States and
Britain say their forces will stay put until they can restore
security, revive the economy and arrange a transition to an
elected, sovereign Iraqi government. However, they have failed
to find Saddam or his alleged arsenal of weapons of mass
destruction which they cited as their main justification for
going to war on March 20.
US President George W. Bush,
floating a new explanation for the failure to find banned
weapons, said suspected arms sites had been looted as Saddam's
government crumbled. "For more than a decade, Saddam Hussein
went to great lengths to hide his weapons from the world. And
in the regime's final days, documents and suspected weapons
sites were looted and burned," Bush said in his weekly radio
address. A US treasury official attending a meeting organised
by the World Economic Forum in Jordan for political and
business leaders, said world donors must provide aid as well
as debt relief to Iraq for postwar reconstruction.
The most important Iraqi captured by US
troops yet has told his interrogators that the deposed leader
and his two sons survived the war, the New York Times
reported. The paper quoted unnamed defense department
officials as saying the information came from Abid Hamid
Mahmud al-Tikriti, captured earlier this week, fourth on a US
list of most wanted Iraqis after Saddam and his sons Uday and
Qusay. They said Mahmud's tips had ignited an intense burst of
clandestine US military activity aimed at capturing the trio.
There was nothing secretive about Saturday's robust
sweep through Ramadi, 100-km (60 miles) west of Baghdad, by
soldiers of the First Battalion of the 124th Infantry Regiment
who psyched themselves up at a base on a musical moment
redolent of Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film about the Vietnam
war. Hit-and-run strikes on US troops have been concentrated
in Sunni Muslim towns such as Ramadi west and north of
One unit of troops dragged half a dozen men
from their homes as women wailed. They seized weapons and a
computer disk. Officers said they aimed to capture five men
from the Fedayeen paramilitary force, which put up some of the
fiercest resistance to US troops during their invasion. The
raid was part of Operation Desert Scorpion, launched on June
15 to crack down on militants and befriend civilians by
helping with aid and reconstruction projects. A US military
spokesman said on Saturday that 90 Desert Scorpion raids had
captured 540 people.
US forces stormed the
headquarters of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution
in Iraq (SCIRI), arrested three employees and confiscated
computers, the leading Shiite group told AFP on Saturday. "A
group of American soldiers entered the headquarters on Friday
and arrested three of our employees after treating people
inside roughly," SCIRI official Mohammed al-Hashemi told AFP.
"The soldiers confiscated documents, computers and disks
without explaining why."
Hashemi said the soldiers
"refused to say where they were taking the three employees or
why they were arresting them." The three "were not management,
just administrative employees." "The soldiers drove up in two
jeeps and two armoured vehicles. They knocked down the doors,
smashed windows, locked the employees in an office while they
searched for several hours," Hashemi charged. "This is not
acceptable behaviour," he added.
In a statement, SCIRI
said: "The insulting of the Iraqi people and its political,
national and civil institutions as well as the arrest and
killing of the Iraqi people shows they have no respect for the
Iraqi people. "This will only lead to more actions of
resistance against the occupation, and hatred towards the
Coalition forces arrested 20 members of
the group at the start of the month and warned that their
military wing, the Badr Brigade, must disarm. SCIRI chief
Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim told AFP at the end of May
that the Badr Brigade, which boasted as many as 15,000
militiamen, had given up its heavy weaponry. However, Hakim
hinted that the force, elements of which have filtered back to
Iraq from neighboring Iran from where they had carried out
raids on Saddam's Baath regime, still carried light arms.
SCIRI is the main Shiite group that opposed the Baathist
regime and is part of a council of former opposition parties
that has been in talks with the coalition about postwar Iraq's
Acting on an
intelligence tip, US forces on Saturday raided an abandoned
community hall in Baghdad, where they seized documents that
may contain information about Iraq's suspected weapons of mass
destruction, military officials said.
bore the seal of Saddam Hussein's secret service, and some
papers referred to Iraq's nuclear program, the officials said.
The raid took place in the Azamiyah district, a center of
support for Saddam where Saddam or someone presenting himself
as Saddam last appeared in public before the capture of
Baghdad on April 9.