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|U.S. Raids in Saddam's Hometown Leave Iraqis Angry
TIKRIT, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. troops lost the hearts and minds of some Iraqis on Tuesday 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 gray 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 U.S. 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 the guerrillas who have killed 73 U.S. 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 United States said it invaded Iraq to free its people and eliminate a threat posed by Saddam, critics say the war has backfired, inflaming Arab anger at the West and creating fertile ground for recruiting anti-American fighters.
At the end of Tuesday'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. "I am certain we found some bad guys," he said.
U.S. commanders say they believe Saddam is probably still in the area around Tikrit but they have yet to find him.
During one of Tuesday'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 the Arabic the soldiers do not understand. They jabbed fingers toward 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.