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GIs Arrest 32 During Raids in Karbala

October 21, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Coalition troops and Iraqi police arrested 32 people Tuesday in raids in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Karbala, and U.S. troops fired in the air to disperse a crowd at the Oil Ministry after a woman objected to a search by a sniffer dog.

In Fallujah, troops of the 82nd Airborne Division were back on the streets Tuesday, one day after one paratrooper was killed and six wounded in an ambush. Two civilians, including a Syrian truck driver, were also killed.

There were no reports of attacks in Fallujah on Tuesday, but nine miles to the southwest, an American Humvee was ablaze after what local residents said was an attack by insurgents. U.S. troops were searching houses in the area.

A full 24 hours after the deaths in Fallujah, the U.S. command in Baghdad said it still had no comment on an allegation by the family of one of the dead civilians that he was killed by American troops after they detained him.

Polish military spokesman Capt. Andrzej Wiatrowski said the raid in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, took place before dawn against a group that seized an Iraqi official last week in a dispute over a bus, triggering armed clashes between rival Shiite factions.

An undetermined quantity of weapons and ammunition were also seized, the spokesman said. Troops and police later searched the home of a Shiite cleric, Khalid al-Kazemi. Three men and two women were detained for questioning, he said.

U.S. officials said only that the targets were ``criminal elements″ in the city, where an American lieutenant colonel and two other U.S. soldiers were killed last week. Polish authorities said more than 30 suspects in the killing of Lt. Col. Kim Orlando were detained Sunday.

North of Baghdad, an explosion blamed on saboteurs damaged a petroleum pipeline carrying crude oil and natural gas to refineries in the capital, an Iraqi officer said Tuesday.

The blast occurred Monday evening near the town of Siniya, about 125 miles north of Baghdad, officials said.

Sabotage of pipelines and other infrastructure has become a major problem for the U.S.-run coalition and its Iraqi partners as they try to revive the country’s giant petroleum industry _ the key to economic recovery.

A Polish military convoy traveling from Baghdad to Camp Babylon near Karbala was attacked with grenades but no one was injured, Polish officials said.

Tensions rose in Karbala last week after a transport official seized a bus owned by followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and held him in the al-Mukayam mosque, where one of al-Sadr’s offices are located.

That led to clashes between rival Shiite groups in which several people were killed or injured. The clash appeared to be part of a power struggle in the majority Shiite community between forces of al-Sadr, a strong opponent of the U.S. military occupation, and followers of religious leaders who have taken a more moderate stand toward the Americans.

Last week, al-Sadr called on U.S. forces to announce a timetable for their ``imminent departure from Iraq″ and in the interim ``they should not interfere at all with the Iraqi people.″

The shooting at the Oil Ministry, which produced no casualties, illustrated the cultural chasm that divides the U.S. occupation forces from ordinary Iraqis. At one point, fists and rifle butts flew between U.S. soldiers and ministry employees, but no serious injuries were immediately reported.

The confrontation began when 28-year-old Amal Karim showed up for work Tuesday and faced a routine search at the ministry entrance by U.S. soldiers, who have tightly guarded the building since the end of the U.S.-Iraq war last April.

When the Americans told her to submit her bag to a sniff-search by a dog, she refused, saying the bag held a copy of the Quran, Iraqi witnesses later reported.

Devout Iraqis often carry Islam’s holy book with them, and Muslims consider dogs to be dirty, disease-spreading animals.

``When she refused, the American soldiers took the Quran out of her bag and threw it to the ground,″ said one woman, Zaineb Rahim. ``Then the American soldiers handcuffed Amal.″

Pushing and punching followed between soldiers and Iraqis, Americans struck out with rifle butts, and soon about 100 Iraqis had gathered in angry protest outside the huge, modern building on Baghdad’s northern edge, leading the Americans to fire shots in the air, the witnesses said.

As the protesters hoisted an Iraqi flag, officers of the tiny, newly formed Iraqi army appeared, trying to ease tensions.

``We don’t want the Americans to search us,″ said employee Muhaid al-Hayani. ``We want the Iraqi police to do the job. We don’t want any Americans in the building of our ministry. We want them to leave.″

Karim was eventually released and was summoned to the oil minister’s office, colleagues reported.

The incident Monday in Fallujah began when insurgents attacked a dismounted patrol from the 82nd Airborne Division with a homemade bomb and small-arms fire.

Reporters and Iraqi witnesses said the paratroopers raked the area with return fire, then raided a mosque and houses looking for the attackers. They detained at least nine Iraqis, including a woman, residents said.

The bodies of the two civilians killed in the Monday attack _ an Iraqi and a Syrian truck driver _ were taken to Fallujah General Hospital. The Associated Press saw that one of them, Iraqi Nazem Baji, had a gunshot wound in the back of his head and his hands were tied in front of him with plastic bands similar to those used by the U.S. military when they arrest suspects.

``They (Americans) raided the house, shot him first in the leg, tied his hands and then shot him in the head,″ said the victim’s brother, Dira’a Baji. Baji said his brother was the only male in the house when the Americans came but that several women relatives were present and described what happened. None of the women was at the hospital.

The U.S. military press office in Baghdad said it had no information on the allegation and referred AP to the 82nd Airborne press office.

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