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Iraqi cops, US troops stage joint raids
( 2003-09-29 14:08) (Agencies)

Iraqi security forces, backed by U.S. military police, carried out their largest-ever joint raid Monday in an effort arrest those responsible for a series of deadly attacks against American forces and to break the resistance movement in Saddam Hussein's turbulent hometown.

The overnight raid involved more than 200 American-trained Iraqi police and dozens of soldiers from the U.S. Army's 720th Military Police Battalion. The Iraqis were trained by the MPs, one of the only U.S. military units to patrol the city on a daily basis.

"The people we went after are the trigger-pullers attacking the coalition," said Lt. Col. David Poirier, who commands the 720th, based in Fort Hood, Texas. "We want to send the message that if you pull the trigger on the coalition, we will get you."

Although only four people were detained in simultaneous raids against 15 houses in downtown Tikrit, Poirier standing on one of Tikrit's dark and dusty streets said the operation was a success because Iraqi police had led the raids.

"We think we are turning the corner with the police. This was completely led by the Iraqis." Poirier said. "We hope this operation has tightened the noose on the bad guys."

They were seeking 12 men believed to be directly responsible for firing rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. convoys along a stretch of roadway in central Tikrit known as "RPG alley." They were also thought to be the men who have detonated scores of homemade bombs along that road and the main highway running through Tikrit that connects Baghdad with the northern part of the country.

"These are the people responsible for that. This operation was designed to break the back of the Fedayeen," Poirier said. "They are off-balance, on the run, they know we are after them and that the Iraqi police are after them."

U.S. troops have carried out dozens of raids, mostly at night, over the past two weeks, arresting men who have funded those known by the U.S. military as the trigger-pullers. They also have uncovered weapons caches, including two of the biggest found to date last Saturday. They included nearly three-dozen heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles, mortars and a ton of explosives used to make bombs.

The raids intensified after Iraqi resistance fighters shot and killed three Americans in an ambush two weeks ago just outside Tikrit. In a coordinated series of attacks and ambushes against U.S. forces last week, nine Iraqi fighters were also killed.

"We think all these people and weapons found in the past are linked. We think they are linked to the organized attacks and are also responsible for the assassination attempts against the Iraqi police as well."

The headquarters of the Iraqi provincial police, where a portion of the operation began just after midnight, had come under mortar attack three days before.

Driving through the sleepy streets of downtown Tikrit without headlights, the teams of Iraqi and U.S. Military Police fanned out through the narrow dirt alleyways, simultaneously storming all 15 houses, with the operation ending just after daybreak.

The operation was carried out after information received by the Iraqi police, and Poirier said the information was an indication that people in Tikrit have begun to tire of the near-daily violence.

"It's Saddam's hometown and there's a lot of family here. Some still believe he's going to return, but more and more they are realizing Saddam is gone and the old regime is dead," Poirier said. "Tikrit was a tough nut to crack. It's Saddam Hussein's hometown, but I think we have cracked it. That, of course, doesn't mean it's a safe place."

 
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