BAGHDAD, Iraq—A heavy force of American soldiers searched more than 2,400 apartments early Thursday morning in a slum near the Abu Ghraib prison, a source of serious trouble since American forces arrived in Baghdad.
Col. Russ Gold of West Palm Beach, Fla., led 1,450 soldiers from the Army's 1st Armored and 82nd Airborne divisions in the raid. Bradley fighting vehicles and military police armored Humvees sealed off every intersection leading into and out of the complex. The infantry swept in as M1A2 Abrams tanks and other Bradleys covered the garbage-strewn open areas around the complex.
Soldiers said raids on homes and tips from Iraqis were helping to quell attacks on U.S. forces.
The soldiers participating on the raid were from the 3rd, or Bulldog, Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan., and a battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division, the 1st Battalion 325th Airborne, commanded by Lt. Col. Eric Nantz of Morgantown, N.C. The battalion is attached to the 3rd Brigade.
"We are taking a lot of weapons and some bad guys off the streets and out of action," said Lt. Col. Dale Ringer of Bellevue, Neb., operations officer of the Bulldog Brigade. "We had seen a lessening of the attacks coming out of here and, with this operation, we hope things will get even quieter."
Soldiers confiscated more than 500 weapons. "We took 24 weapons out of one apartment," Gold said. "The same apartment also yielded an American flak jacket and ceramic armor plates."
Gold said overcrowding and high unemployment were especially serious in the complex because many of the people living there were prisoners whom former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein freed before the war.
Military police detained three Iraqis, Waleed Khalid Ibrahim abd Hassan, Ahmed Khalid Ibrahim abd Hassan and Muhammed Ali Aboud al Sheeawi, who were identified as part of a terrorist cell responsible for an attack on the 709th Military Police last month that killed one MP and seriously wounded another.
In another raid, an armored Bradley fighting vehicle led a convoy down a dark suburban street at 3 a.m. Thursday, then turned sharply and slammed into the locked steel gate of a two-story home.
Soldiers of the 1st Platoon, 1st Squadron 1st Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Armored Division raced through the broken gates, smashed open two doors and herded five women and girls and a small boy into the street. The master of the house, Talib Abbas Ahmed Faiad al Hamadani, was yanked from his bed, cuffed and blindfolded.
U.S. officials said he was a former Saddam secret police agent and that intelligence from another Iraqi said he might have been a manufacturer of booby-trapped bombs and artillery shells used to kill Americans.
Bomb-sniffing dog teams and an American MP with a device that can detect traces of explosives worked their way through the house, but found nothing. Then a team of four agents from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation searched and found two AK-47 automatic rifles and a mortar sight. Al Hamadani was taken to jail.
American Army camps in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport have heard the whistle of incoming 82 mm mortars. Lt. Col. Chuck Williams of Sterling, Va., the commander of 1/1 Cavalry, said it was standard operating procedure for guerrillas to break down a mortar into its parts, with different men carrying the sight, the tube and the base plate, and others burying the shells near the launch point.
"Then they all come together very quickly, fire a few rounds and take off just as quickly," Williams said. "The guy with the sight is likely to be the boss."
Capt. Chase Metcalf of Greensboro, Vt., who commands Comanche Company of 1/1 Cavalry, and Lt. Jeffrey Demarest from upstate New York, leader of C Company's 1st Platoon, led the raid on al Hamadani's house along with Sgt. Robert Eplee of Asheville, N.C.
Col. Kirk Fuller, the commander of the 2nd Brigade 325th Airborne Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, heads Task Force Falcon, which includes 1/1 Cavalry. His 2,582 soldiers are responsible for securing a quarter of Baghdad.
Fuller said that from the beginning of June to last week in his area there had been 118 attacks from homemade bombs, 31 from mortars, 26 from rocket-propelled grenades, 60 with small arms, seven with rockets and three with grenades.
He and Williams said Iraqis increasingly were willing to provide information about those involved in attacks on Americans, and Thursday's early morning raid was the result of one such tip. Fuller said he spent 70 percent of his time talking to Iraqis.
Gold and Nantz, the commanders involved in the raid on the apartments near the prison, said the pairing of their heavy armor and light airborne infantry foreshadowed Army transformation.
"The 82nd guys have taught us some new tricks in foot-soldiering," Gold said. "You know, tankers are notorious for never wanting to get off their tanks except to eat, but we've learned."
"We've done some learning too," Nantz said. "Colonel Gold even gave me 14 tanks, and I bet you have to go back to Korea or maybe World War II to find an airborne outfit with its own armor."
Soldiers were beginning to think about their upcoming rotation home to Germany and Fort Hood, Texas, in the spring.
Gold said he and the other commanders were determined that their troops wouldn't lose their edge or put in less time and attention to a dangerous job in the final months of their deployment. "I tell them the first time I am going to relax and take a deep breath is the day I am home, in my den, sitting in my easy chair with my feet up. Premature relaxation in this place can get you killed."