25th June 2003 : Web Edition No: 11601
Editor-in-Chief: Ahmed Jarallah
Apocalypse now Fedayeen vow to kill - WMD papers found
BAGHDAD, (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.

With the 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 iron rule.

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.

"Under Saddam, 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 Baghdad.

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 occupiers."

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 future administration.

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.

The documents 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.