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U.S. soldiers' aggressive tactics in Iraq 'risky business'
San Francisco Chronicle


October 13, 2005
Thursday PM

OUJA, Iraq - It had been a frustrating morning for U.S. Army Lt. Jeff Halladay. He had already gone through three houses, searching in vain for a mustachioed man suspected of planting roadside bombs. Intelligence suggested the man lived in this neighborhood of neat stucco compounds.

So now, Halladay was resorting to a more urgent measure, one that U.S. military officers acknowledge can do more harm than good: trying to gather the needed information by intimidating the suspect's neighbors.

Halladay thrust a photograph of the suspect at Muhammar Abdul Karim, a slender teenager in a brown dishdasha shirt, who was cowering in the corner of one of the compounds. "Where the ... is this guy?" bellowed Halladay, 28, from Buffalo, N.Y. He towered over Karim, his feet slightly apart and planted firmly on the ground. Halladay was clutching the photograph of a man in his mid-30s in one hand, an M16 rifle in the other.

The boy started saying something to Halladay's Iraqi interpreter, shaking his head "no," his brows arched plaintively. Halladay cut him off.

"Don't ... interrupt or I'll break your ...finger!" the American roared. "Where the ... is he? He's your ... neighbor! Do you wanna see your brother and your father go to jail? Where the hell is he?"

The tactic brought the Army unit no closer to finding its target in Ouja, former President Saddam Hussein's home village just outside Tikrit. Karim, like his two older brothers and father Halladay would question later, insisted he did not know the man.

It's a scene that is repeated often. American soldiers looking for suspected insurgents not only find themselves thwarted in their mission but have left a civilian population more alienated by their presence than they already had been.

As commander of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Lt. Col. Todd Wood is well aware of the negative consequences of such a seemingly heavy-handed approach.

Each man and woman alienated by Americans during a raid becomes a potential recruit for the Sunni-based insurgency, he fears. "In the States, if police burst into your house, kicking down doors and swearing at you, you would call your lawyer and file a lawsuit," said Wood, 42, from Iowa, who did not accompany Halladay's Charlie Company, from his battalion, on the raid. "Here, there are no lawyers. Their resources are limited, so they plant IEDs (improvised explosive devices) instead."

U.S. soldiers reimburse civilians - usually immediately - for everything they break during a raid. A broken gate, for example, is worth $60 - about half an average monthly salary in the area. But they cannot compensate for the emotional scars of civilians they scare in the process, Wood said.

"I have to balance the effects of arresting a bad guy who possibly makes and plants IEDs versus the effects of conducting that raid and all the negative effects it may have," Wood said. "It's a very delicate balancing act. It's a risky business."

As part of an effort to tighten security in the area ahead of Saturday's referendum on the new Iraqi constitution, soldiers from the 2nd Battalion have raided dozens of suspected insurgent hideouts over the last two weeks, arresting almost 40 suspects, about 10 of whom they have already released.

There have been no major attacks on coalition troops or Iraqi security forces in the area since the raids began, and Wood credits the raids for the lull in violence.

On a typical raid, soldiers leave their Humvees a block away from the suspected hideout, then sprint, silently, toward the targeted house, crouching beside stucco walls of Iraqi compounds, their guns drawn. If the compound's metal gate is shut, they kick it down and run into the house loudly.

Some soldiers separate men from women and children, while others run through the rooms with their guns at the ready, peering cautiously into shadowy corners, shining their flashlights at unfinished meals, pet squirrels, pewter trays, Kalashnikov rifle magazine clips, children sleeping on the floor. Sometimes, they bring bomb-sniffing dogs. Other times, they go through closets and cupboards, looking under mattresses and in ovens. Large, glossy brown cockroaches skitter out of drainpipes as the soldiers lift up heavy lids, looking for hidden weapons.

"You gotta go on one of those raids with the assumption that the guy's barricaded in there and that he's ready to kill anyone going through the door," Wood said. "You can't come in with a relaxed posture and then step it up, 'cause you'll get hurt."


E-mail Anna Badkhen at abadkhen(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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