Hit parade

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 29 12:32:13 MDT 2003


LA Times, May 29, 2003

AFTER THE WAR

Riot Chases Troops Out of Iraqi Town
'They were terrifying the women and children,' one protester says after 
U.S. soldiers search homes for weapons.

By Tyler Marshall, Times Staff Writer

HIT, Iraq — In the third straight day of Iraqi violence against the U.S. 
military occupation of the country, residents enraged over 
house-to-house searches in this western town ransacked the police 
station, stoned U.S. armored military vehicles and set police cars on 
fire Wednesday.

With a large, uncontrolled mob still roaming the streets as dusk fell, 
it was impossible to determine exactly what triggered the riot, but in a 
series of chaotic interviews laced with anti-American rage and threats 
of vengeance, residents said the problems began when police assisted the 
U.S. troops in searching local homes for weapons.

As night fell, there was no sign of either the police or U.S. forces in 
the town, and plumes of pitch-black smoke billowed into the air as the 
remains of two police cars burned along a main street. There were no 
immediate reports of casualties. The Pentagon said it was aware of 
anti-American disturbances in several cities Wednesday, including Hit.

Already this week, ambushes carried out in Hadithah, Baghdad and 
Fallouja have left four U.S. soldiers dead and 15 others wounded.

Some Hit residents said an American helicopter providing air cover for 
the operation crashed in the village of Albu Assaf, three miles west of 
the town, but the Pentagon said it was "skeptical" about the accounts. 
When asked to be taken to the alleged crash site, locals said Americans 
had already cleared away the debris.

As in the earlier incidents, the violence in Hit appeared to be driven — 
at least in part — by an exploding fury at living conditions that have 
plunged the lives of many Iraqis into chaos, including a widespread 
lawlessness and a lack of essential services such as drinking water, 
electricity and medical supplies.

Gasoline, when available, costs 20 times more than it did during Saddam 
Hussein's rule.

"They said they wanted to liberate Iraq, but this all shows it is just a 
game," said Saleh Dayeh, a political science teacher interviewed in the 
nearby town of Mohammedi. "Petrol is the property of the Iraqi people, 
but now the Americans are stealing it. They are taking our property, our 
petrol and doing nothing for us."

Although cheap by American standards at about $1 a gallon, until 
recently Iraqis were paying little more than the equivalent of a nickel.

While rage was clearly the prevailing emotion on the streets, there were 
also signs of desperation bordering on panic, both in Hit and 
neighboring communities.

Abdul Alim Khalaf, a secondary school English teacher in Mohammedi, 
grabbed the shoulder of a reporter as he turned to leave after a brief 
interview and pleaded: "No, don't go! There are no salaries here. No one 
has received anything. There is nothing!"

U.S. authorities began paying salaries to the country's 1.3 million 
civil servants Saturday, but the payments started in Baghdad and aren't 
expected to reach outlying areas for a few days.

Residents here said U.S. troops had provoked anger Tuesday when they 
searched houses in an outlying neighborhood and arrived shortly after 
dawn Wednesday to set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the town. They 
then began searching homes with the help of local police.

When the searches continued despite what residents called a peaceful 
protest, a second, angrier, protest formed in the late afternoon that 
quickly turned violent. Both the U.S. troops and the police immediately 
withdrew from the town once the riot started, residents said.

"They forced women and children to leave their houses!" shouted Esmael 
Rabee, a construction worker who made his voice heard above the shouts 
of those who had crowded around the lone foreign reporter on the scene. 
"They violated the dignity and honor of our women. We won't accept this 
violation.

"The people will do more of this if the Americans come in here again," 
he added, shaking his fist as those around him shouted approval. "They 
showed no respect for our way of life."

Taxi driver Jumaa Khalif declared: "They were terrifying the women and 
children."

Hit, a town of about 20,000, is 100 miles west of Baghdad in an area 
whose inhabitants are mainly conservative Sunni Muslims.

The cooperation of local police with U.S. forces in the searches 
appeared to further anger residents, who insisted that there had been no 
change in leadership at all in Hit. The same men who harassed, 
intimidated and oppressed them under Hussein were at work Wednesday 
leading U.S. troops to the homes of those suspected of possessing 
concealed weapons, they said.

In Washington, Pentagon officials acknowledged concern Wednesday that 
central Iraq has become a trouble spot for U.S. forces.

"We have reports of lots of skirmishes throughout the central region of 
Iraq," one official said. Referring to members of Hussein's Baath Party, 
he added, "These are in areas like Hit and Fallouja where there are 
definitely Baath resistance groups that are really dug in."

Concerned about the violence, the Pentagon has reportedly decided that a 
large number of troops will remain in the country for a longer period 
than originally envisioned. Although maintaining their presence may 
boost security, the delay in the departure of thousands of GIs has 
caused dismay within the ranks of many Army units that have been 
deployed in Iraq.

In western parts of Baghdad, U.S. military authorities ordered hundreds 
of troops into a part of the city where sporadic attacks in recent days 
by Iraqis armed mainly with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades 
have left one American dead and five others wounded. The added patrols 
were an attempt to halt the guerrilla action in the area, military 
officials said.

Also in Baghdad, U.S. military personnel raided the Palestinian Embassy 
on Wednesday morning, according to a mid-level embassy official who 
requested anonymity. The official, who was away from the compound when 
the troops arrived around 10:30 a.m. but returned as the arrests were 
underway, said about 18 of the embassy's 23 employees were taken away by 
U.S. soldiers.

The reason given for the arrests was that the ambassador's top 
assistant, Najah Abdul Rahman Khateeb, had an unauthorized weapon, the 
official said.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Times staff writer Greg Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

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