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U.S. Hunts Suspected Ambushers in Iraq

U.S. Hunts Suspected Ambushers in Iraq

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RAMADI, Iraq (AP) -- Led by informants, U.S. soldiers swept into homes in Baghdad and several outlying towns Monday in pursuit of Saddam Hussein loyalists who have been ambushing American forces. At least 59 Iraqis were detained, most taken away blindfolded and handcuffed.

The soldiers also dug up backyards in a search for heavy arms, but the U.S. military announced no major weapons discoveries.

U.S. Hunts Suspected Ambushers in Iraq

Ten Americans were wounded in ambushes on two convoys despite the U.S. campaign to put down resistance across Iraq's Sunni heartland where Saddam's support was strongest.

The two rocket-propelled grenade attacks reinforced the belief that Saddam loyalists were reorganizing. Residents of homes raided over the past two days warned that the U.S. operations were only fueling hostility and anti-American attacks.

For weeks, American forces have been targets of hit-and-run assaults, most in the central "Sunni belt" north and west of Baghdad. About a dozen U.S. soldiers have been killed by hostile fire since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat over.

The latest ambushes came Sunday. In the first, the grenade fire set fire to a civilian bus that was passing a military convoy near the town of Mushahidah, about 15 miles north of Baghdad, seriously wounding two soldiers and lightly wounding six others.

The second attack hit a U.S. convoy in Dujayl, a town 35 miles north of Baghdad, lightly wounding two soldiers, said Army spokesman Capt. John Morgan.

U.S. Hunts Suspected Ambushers in Iraq

Qusai Taha, 33, a grocery store owner from Dujayl, said he heard gunfire while in his store, ran outside and saw that the last vehicle in a 15-vehicle U.S. convoy had been hit. He said he saw two U.S. soldiers being taken out of the truck, apparently wounded.

Later, Taha said, two Iraqis arrived on a motorbike and set the truck ablaze.

The U.S. Central Command blamed the ambushes on hard-core loyalists of the ousted regime who "continue to put innocent civilians at risk."

Last week, the military launched its biggest combat operation since the war, sending thousands of troops through central Iraqi towns. On Sunday, after banning Iraqis from having any weapons heavier than an assault rifle, the military began its latest sweep -- Operation Desert Scorpion -- to root out arms and militants.

The operation spread to Baghdad on Monday: Troops from the Army's 1st Armored Division arrested 44 people, including three suspects in a June 1 grenade attack on U.S. soldiers guarding the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad's Azamiyah neighborhood, where support for Saddam remains high.

That attack injured two U.S. soldiers and sparked a firefight that killed two Iraqis.

U.S. Hunts Suspected Ambushers in Iraq

Monday morning, an informant rode with the raiders pointing out houses to the troops, who also used surveillance photos taken by special forces to pinpoint targets.

Officers said they found anti-American documents in the homes and seized $14,000 in both Iraqi and U.S. currency, in addition to an AK-47 assault rifle and 9mm pistol.

Thirteen men detained during the day were taken to a palace north of Baghdad that once belonged to Saddam's son Odai. The prisoners knelt or sat on concrete blocks surrounded by concertina wire. All wore white blindfolds and some had duct tape over their mouths.

During a raid Monday night, troops took 31 more Iraqis prisoner outside the Abu Hanifa mosque and at an outdoor cafe, where soldiers lined men who had been playing backgammon and drinking tea up against a fence, search them and loaded them handcuffed onto trucks. Also seized were two truckloads of medical supplies, including IV solutions and glucose bags, that the Americans suspected were looted or were bound for the black market.

"They (anti-U.S. forces) have quite a network still in place here," said Maj. Scott Bisciotti, an operations officer for the 1st Armored Division. "We're trying to take it down one piece at a time."

In the Ramadi area, about 60 miles west of Baghdad, the raid began at 5:15 a.m., when families were still asleep outside their homes to escape the heat indoors.

"These are coalition forces. Please stay in your homes and open your doors. Thank you for your cooperation," blared a warning in Arabic from a loudspeaker as an armored column rolled in.

Within an hour, the troops were gone, taking four brothers from the Saleh home and two brothers from the nearby home of the Mejwal family.

"There are no weapons of mass destruction here," said Omar Saleh, 40, the elder brother of the four detainees. "This is not liberation, nor democracy nor freedom."

Clothes and sheets were scattered on the floor, drawers were opened and their contents were strewn, and a splintered wooden cupboard bore the imprint of a boot. But a framed picture of Saddam was left undisturbed on the wall.

Minutes after the soldiers left, the Saleh house was crowded with neighbors who tried to comfort the weeping mother.

"The resistance is going to increase," said Abdul Qader Fahd, 30, a teacher. "Dealing with civilians like this is terrorism."

In Khaldiyah, 18 miles east of Ramadi, more than 100 military police and infantrymen in 30 Humvees and four Bradley fighting vehicles poured into the small town to raid six homes. Nine people were arrested.

U.S. commanders said the houses were identified by a prisoner who was captured Saturday after he and two other men fired RPGs at an American patrol. Two of the houses belonged to the two men.

When military police entered, they found only relatives and a few hundred rounds of pistol and assault rifle ammunition buried in the backyard of one of them.

Female military police and medics stayed with the women and children as the troops searched the house, finding Iraqi Republican Guard uniforms but no illegal weapons.

Next door, soldiers found a pound of C4 explosives on the roof with a detonator cord. "I don't know about it. If I did know about it, I would have hidden it or thrown it away," said Ahmed Abbas, the house's owner.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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