Iraqi anger at scene of 'a great victory' for US soldiers


IRAQ: US forces say they took out a terrorist camp in al-Duluiya. What camp ask local people as they bury their dead. Jack Fairweather reports from the scene of a disputed battle.

American forces yesterday pulled out of the town of al- Duluiya, after competing a four- day mission to rid the area of Iraqi resistance groups as part of the largest military operation since the end of the war.

With eight soldiers killed and 15 injured over the past fortnight in a series of ambushes and drive-by shootings targeting US troops, Operation Peninsula Strike has become the top priority in restoring peace to the troubled region 95 miles north of Baghdad.

In al-Duluiya, 800 soldiers were given the task of taking a Baathist stronghold from which it was believed a pro-Saddam terrorist organisation had masterminded a number of attacks against US soldiers.

Lieut Col Philip Battaglia of the 4th Infantry Division, in charge of ground forces involved in the attack, said: "We have won a great victory over the past few days. It was a well synchronised and orchestrated operation of which my boys can be very proud."

The storming of the compound, involving an amphibious assault with support from a squadron of apache attack helicopters and an unmanned predator drones, took place in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Two Iraqis were killed and seven injured, with a further 397 arrested over the course of the operation. There were no American casualties.

"We've just taken out one more terrorist training camp, which means one more step towards making Iraq a safe and prosperous country," said Lieut Col Battaglia.

But in the camp visited by The Irish Times yesterday, local Iraqis expressed deep resentment at what they saw as a heavy-handed American campaign waged indiscriminately using ill-informed and hastily gathered military intelligence.

"This is no terrorist camp," said Ahmed al-Juboori, whose father, a retired school teacher, was killed during the attack on the compound, a collection of four residential houses on the banks of the Tigris river.

"My father was asleep in the garden due to the heat. My family heard the sound of helicopters and the troops as they entered the compound and rushed outside. They saw a soldier hitting my father repeatedly on his head with the butt of his gun. We tried to stop them but were arrested."

According to al-Juboori, 50 soldiers then entered the house, shooting through the windows before proceeding to search the property.

Yesterday the house still bore evidence to the thoroughness of the soldiers. Crockery had been smashed, furniture and cupboards had been broken up and a photograph of the family lay torn-up the floor.

Fifteen-year-old Zadoon al- Juboori, attending the funeral of his father Mohammed at a neighbour's house, described how his father, a local farmer, became the second man killed in the compound attack.

"We heard the troops coming at midnight," he said. "My father said not to be worried because they were only coming to search the house for weapons and we did not have any. He opened the door to the soldiers but was immediately hit in the chest and the arm with their guns.

"He began having a heart attack, but when I fetched the drugs to treat him, a soldier took them off me and ground them into the earth with his boot. He was not taken to a hospital until 11 hours after the attack, by which time he was dead."

Zadoon, along with 15 members of the compound, were taken to a nearby American military base.

"We were blindfolded and handcuffed and left to stand in the open for seven hours." Zadoon was then released. All but three of the members of the family have since been set free.

The mood at the funeral for the two men, who came from the same al-Jaboori tribe, was subdued. Women in one of the two tents set up to welcome grievers, could be heard wailing.

Abdul Rahman al-Jaboori, one of the heads of the family in charge of the ceremony and a former major in the Iraqi army, denied the charges that his family had been involved in attacks against Americans or had harboured high ranking members of the Baath party.

"This attack was based on nothing but malicious rumours spread by people who the Americans believed without investigating."

Abdul described how his family, which before the first Gulf War had held important posts in the government and military, had fallen from grace with the regime when plans for a coup against the dictator were revealed during the uprising which followed the retreat from Kuwait.

"That is why we organised a concert to welcome the Americans when they first came here. We believed them when they said they would bring us democracy and freedom after years of persecution. Instead they have brought us oppression and the murder of our loved ones."

Family members at the funeral discounted American claims that there was any form of organised resistance to the US occupation in the tribal heartlands around Baghdad.

"There was no fighting in a town like Falluja during the war. That only came when American soldiers killed 18 people during a protest. The people who are fighting the Americans are only taking personal action to avenge the murders of their family members," said Jasim al-Jaboori, a lawyer.

"We have a blood feud against the Americans now. And every day that passes and more people are killed, other blood feuds are beginning. Do you see any Baath Party loyalists or terrorists here? There are none, only a very sad and angry family."