| A US soldier (left) guards suspected anti-American rebels as family members of the suspects look on in Tikrit. (Reuters)
Tikrit, Sept. 16 (Reuters): US troops lost the hearts and minds of some Iraqis today in aggressive pre-dawn house raids in the hometown of Saddam Hussein, blowing open gates, kicking down doors and shoving faces in the dirt.
Ten-year-old Ahmed, herded with the rest of his family into his garden, shook visibly as he watched soldiers interrogate one man, whose head slammed onto the ground with a thud.
“I will become an Iraqi fighter and I will kill Americans,” the boy said. He pointed at troops who charged into his home with rifles, sledgehammers and bolt-cutters hunting for anti-American guerrillas. “They are the enemy,” he said.
An old, barefoot man was led from his house over shards of glass from a broken picture frame knocked off the wall.
A balding man with a grey beard and dark tunic sat with his hands cuffed behind his back. “Why did you smash the gate down'” he asked the soldiers pointing their weapons at his chest. “I would have let you in.”
The US military raids dozens of homes each day throughout Iraq, trying to stem the flood of mine, grenade and mortar attacks against them by rounding up suspected assailants.
Senior commanders say the strategy has helped wrest the initiative from guerrillas who have killed 73 US soldiers since Washington declared major combat over in Iraq on May 1.
But they acknowledge that when innocent Iraqis are caught up in the raids, it deepens distrust of the occupiers and can undermine the goodwill the soldiers generate by projects such as restoring electricity that aim to win over “hearts and minds”.
While the US said it invaded Iraq to free its people, critics say the war has backfired.
At the end of today’s raid, troops said they did not know if any of roughly a dozen detained men were the suspects they had targeted in what they dubbed “Operation High Five.” But Lieutenant David Poirier, who led the raids, said soldiers found explosives material in one home.
During one of today’s raids, a young girl cowered in a woman’s lap pressing her hands over her ears to block out the soldiers’ yells of “Get down, get down.” Sitting cross-legged, an old woman dressed all in black, rocked back and forth, muttering to herself with her cheeks cupped in her hands.
Three women angrily remonstrated in Arabic which the soldiers do not understand. They jabbed fingers towards them or raised their hands above their heads, accusing the intruders of stealing money inside.
The women, who insisted on being allowed to wear head-dresses, only stopped shouting once. Their mouths dropped open when they noticed one of the tall soldiers guarding them, hair hidden beneath a helmet, was a square-jawed woman.
But when the soldiers turned to leave, the defiant women followed after the soldiers and began shouting again. With the women screaming “Go, go,” in English, Ahmed quietly held out a pair of sandals hoping a soldier would take them to a barefoot detainee. The gate was slammed in his face.
Iraq has been invited to attend a meeting of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries for the first time since occupation by US forces, the cartel said today.