The U.S. military is sweeping the area north of Baghdad as part of a new operation to root out Saddam Hussein's remaining supporters and stop the daily attacks on American troops.
The military is using helicopters, tanks and infantry for "Operation Desert Sidewinder," searching for former ruling-party loyalists and the people responsible for a string of recent deadly attacks on U.S. troops. American officials say scores of people have been arrested in a series of raids, mainly north of Baghdad.
The military said Desert Sidewinder is a more targeted operation than previous ones. The troops appear to be singling out specific locations and individuals, rather than the door-to-door searches that initially characterized Operation Desert Scorpion, which began last month.
Soldiers in Balad said most of the activity was taking place at night or early in the morning.
U.S. Central Command said the paramilitary activity centers around the Tigris river between Baghdad and Saamara, more than 100 kilometers to the north.
Balad falls right in the middle of that zone, and it is near the area where two U.S. soldiers were kidnapped and killed Wednesday.
But residents in the town insist everything has been relatively quiet for the past week or so. Shopkeeper Jaafar Fadel said most of the problems have been outside of town.
He said here in town, there are no problems between the Iraqis and the American troops.
But the U.S. military clearly thinks the area around Balad is a trouble spot, and they are sending reinforcements. Several groups of soldiers in the town and nearby Ba-Qubah said they were re-deployed from elsewhere in Iraq.
In other news, a Centcom statement said an Army patrol was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade in Fallujah, south of Baghdad. The attack wounded a civilian journalist traveling with the troops. He has been evacuated for medical attention and is reported to be in stable condition.
Meanwhile, the human rights group Amnesty International said there is evidence that the U.S. forces may be subjecting Iraqi prisoners and detainees to cruel and unusual punishment, including inhumane conditions in prison.
Amnesty said there is consistent testimony by former prisoners that U.S. soldiers used excessive force during their arrests. The group urged the United States to allow detainees to receive visitors and consult with a lawyer.
A senior coalition official in Baghdad acknowledged that many of the charges in the Amnesty International report are legitimate, but said they are at least partly due to the inadequate prisons left behind by the old regime. The official said the coalition is working on what he called logistical problems relating to the legal and prison systems and hopes to improve the situation within the next few weeks.
He also said it is hard to investigate allegations of use of excessive force since the Amnesty report provided no details of specific incidents.
The coalition official said there are between 1,300 and 2,000 prisoners in Iraq, most of them accused of crimes such as robbery, rape or murder. He said only a fraction of the detainees are considered prisoners of war or enemy combatants.