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US Forces Start Crackdown Against Armed Groups in Iraq - 2003-06-16


U.S. military officials say armed assailants attempted to ambush a troop convoy north of Baghdad Sunday, but hit a civilian bus instead. Attacks on American troops in Iraq have been on the rise in recent weeks, prompting the military to launch security sweeps in areas where they believe armed supporters of the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein may be hiding.

Military police here say they know Baghdad and much of the rest of the country are bristling with weapons, ranging from pistols to AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles to rocket-propelled-grenades, or RPGs.

Recent attacks against American forces have prompted a crackdown against suspected armed groups and illegal weapons.

Iraqis are allowed to keep a pistol or rifle in their homes for self-protection, but a deadline was set for everyone to turn in other weapons by Saturday night.

At the main police station of Baghdad's "as Salaam" neighborhood, U.S. Army Sergeant Christopher Kahn said very few weapons have been turned in, and pointed to a meager assortment of weapons in the corner.

"AK-47s, we have some RPGs, hand grenades, stuff like that," he said.

Sergeant Kahn answered "Lot of these are being found and just brought in by citizens. The people that have them in the homes that aren't giving them up, they're the ones that we're trying to find," when asked if people are keeping RPGs in their homes.

"We run dismounted foot patrols in and around Baghdad and our area," said Sergeant Jason Chamorra, who goes out on patrol to look for illegal weapons. "We check on reports of people holding on to a lot of weapons in their apartments, and we go in and search for weapons for anything other than what they're allowed to have in their homes," he added.

Some civilians have accused the soldiers of using heavy-handed tactics and frightening families during the searches.

English teacher Nabil Arubai, who also works as translator for the U.S. military police in this neighborhood, says he has heard complaints.

"Some people, when the soldiers came to their homes, some of these people living in the neighborhood were out," he said. "When the soldiers came, some of them knocked at the doors, but they got no answer, so they have broken some doors."

Sergeant Chamorra said he has not encountered any problems on his patrols.

"To my knowledge, we haven't broken down doors, we haven't disrespected the families of the homes we've gone into," he said. "We've done everything we can to respect the cultural differences of the community."

The military says search patrols in Baghdad and arms raids in towns and villages will continue as long as illegal weapons are out there and armed resistance poses a threat to U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

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