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Iraqis Angered by U.S. Security Sweep

June 15, 2003

FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) _ Jassim Mohammed and his family were sleeping out on the front yard _ an escape from the summer’s stifling heat _ when U.S. soldiers stormed in at 3 a.m., kicking the gate open and rushing past them into the house.

Outside, U.S. tanks and fighting vehicles kicked up dust as they rumbled on the dirt roads. Overhead, helicopters flew low. Frightened by the noise and the sight of the soldiers, Mohammed’s younger children screamed.

An hour later, the 60-year-old security guard said, the soldiers left with two of his sons _ Salah, 25, and Mohammed, 26 _ in handcuffs and with books and a stack of family documents.

``Americans have no manners or morals,″ said 27-year-old Omar Saadoun, a neighbor.

The raids were part of a U.S. military operation Sunday, involving hundreds of infantrymen backed by tanks and helicopters that aimed to seize illegal weapons and root out resistance. Fallujah, a restive town west of Baghdad, is suspected of harboring hard-core Saddam Hussein loyalists and members of his Baath party.

U.S. troops said they met no resistance in the operation and suffered no injuries. Residents who spoke to The Associated Press in Fallujah also reported no injuries, though they were angered by the aggressive behavior of American soldiers.

``We got rid of one problem and now we have a bigger one,″ said Mohammed, turning his face away to wipe away tears. ``Even Saddam never did this to us.″

Yazi Mohammed, one of Mohammed’s two wives, took a visitor on a tour of the concrete-floored and sparsely furnished house. Signs of a search were still visible in one room.

``Look, does this please God almighty?″ she asked, pointing to children’s clothes and tools scattered on the floor.

At a nearby house, Widad Ismail said her husband, Firas Abbas, his brothers, Ahmed and Osama, and cousin, Hani Hashem, were handcuffed and taken away by American soldiers, also around 3 a.m. All three brothers are in their 20s. Hashem is 19.

Like most areas to the north and west of Baghdad, Fallujah is a conservative bastion of Arabs subscribing to the mainstream Sunni sect of Islam. Iraq’s minority Sunni Arabs have traditionally provided the backbone of Iraq’s military and professional classes, enjoying a near monopoly over political power and sidelining the Shiite Muslim majority and other ethnic groups.

Saddam, himself a Sunni, was their patron, but now that he is gone, their future looks uncertain.

Realizing the magnitude of anti-U.S. sentiments in Fallujah, the U.S. military is carrying out its security sweeps in tandem with a charm offensive designed to persuade the city’s 200,000 residents that Americans are in Iraq to help.

Not far from Mohammed’s house, U.S. soldiers were installing 16 new blackboards and 18 ceiling fans at a girls’ primary school. Next door, two U.S. bulldozers were clearing up garbage from a dusty field. An Arabic-language message blaring from a loudspeaker in a U.S. military vehicle invited residents to apply for security jobs and told residents that the raids earlier on the day were meant to ``make Fallujah a safer place.″

Speaking at the school’s gate, U.S. Col. John Peabody, commander of an engineering brigade from the 3rd Infantry Division, said Fallujah residents were slowly coming to terms with the American presence in their city, but acknowledged that there were still incidents when locals threw stones at U.S. troops or spat on them.

``We are trying to make a positive difference for the people of Fallujah. We are trying to win minds and hearts here,″ said Peabody, a 45-year-old native of Norwalk, Ohio.

The goodwill gestures got a lukewarm response.

Jameela Kareem, a 40-year-old teacher, complained that the presence of U.S. soldiers at the school prompted some parents to keep their children at home.

``The children are scared of the soldiers,″ she said.

Hana’a Hamad, the headmistress, reacted angrily when an Iraqi translator working with the U.S. military handed her 5-year-old daughter, Woroud, a sweet from an American soldier.

``You must first ask me whether I want my daughter to take it from you,″ she said.

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