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Many Iraqis in the Triangle say they've had enough of America's help

FALLUJAH, Iraq—Ahmed Manaa's face was dark with anger. He was tired of the U.S. troops rumbling up and down his city's streets in their big tanks, pointing their guns at passing cars. They are nothing but occupiers, he said, and they should go back to America, before another war begins.

Ahmed doesn't fit the profile of anti-U.S. elements whom American army commanders so often describe: He doesn't mourn the fall of Saddam Hussein and has never been an al Qaida sympathizer. In fact, Ahmed is 13 years old, with a buzz cut, a frame a bit small for his age and views about U.S. forces that are widely shared in Fallujah, where he lives, and other towns northwest of Baghdad.

"We wish that Allah would have revenge on the Americans," he said.

U.S. and Iraqi soldiers have been killed in violent confrontations in recent weeks in Fallujah and other towns in what's known as the Triangle, a large territory from Saddam's hometown of Tikrit to the north, south to Baghdad and west almost to the Syrian border.

The United States contends the problems are due largely to holdovers from Saddam Hussein's regime; the former dictator is a Sunni Muslim, and so are most of the people who live in the area.

In dozens of interviews during the past five days, however, most residents across the area said there was no Baathist or Sunni conspiracy against U.S. soldiers; there were only people ready to fight because their relatives had been hurt or killed, or they themselves had been humiliated by home searches and road stops.

Add to those complaints the shortages of water and electricity and delays in establishing a new government, and many Iraqis said they had had enough of America's help.

In the past week there have been three large-scale U.S. military operations in the triangle: a roundup of some 400 people in towns along the Tigris River to the north, an attack in which more than 80 suspected anti-American fighters were killed outside the western town of Rawah and a raid on Fallujah early Sunday that brought more than 1,000 soldiers to town, looking through homes for weapons and militant leaders.

The Fallujah raid was the first leg of the Army's Operation Desert Scorpion, which went farther west Monday with house searches in Khaldiyah and Ramadi.

During the past few days, the U.S. military also has set up checkpoints on roads in and around Baghdad to check for weapons. The lines take up to an hour to get through and leave motorists sweating in the 120-degree heat.

Many Iraqis said it was beyond belief that Americans would enter houses or stop cars and take assault rifles without paying for them. The practice particularly grates in small towns, where people believe the weapons are necessary for protection.

The harder the Americans press, many Iraqis said, the more enemies they make.

Ahmed said U.S. soldiers shot his older brother Omar in the leg earlier this month and took him into custody, saying he had fired on them from the shadows. Omar Manaa was a security guard for the mayor. Shot alongside him—and killed—was Montassar Hamad, a local policeman.

Omar Manaa was released from U.S. custody during the past week. There were metal pins in his leg to keep the bone in place. He said he and Hamad were chasing looters when the American soldiers began shooting at them.

Police officer Safa Shaikon was at the mayor's office that evening, June 8, and said that in the confusion of the night U.S. soldiers mistook Manaa and Hamad for the looters. Neither man fired a shot at the soldiers, Shaikon said. The police commander for the mayor's office backed up that version of events.

The incident, which Maj. Gen. Buford Blount of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division said was under investigation, has become yet another rallying cry for the people of Fallujah, where at least 15 people were killed in a demonstration in late April. American soldiers said they were fired on first; residents deny that.

Farmers, police, politicians, tribal sheiks, businessmen, cabdrivers and religious leaders across the Triangle say there may well be more bloodshed.

"What do you expect from people defending themselves?" said Mahdi Alsumaidy, the imam, or spiritual leader, of the influential Um-Al Tubol mosque in Baghdad. If the United States doesn't get out of Iraq soon, he said, "more and more people will be killed, the Iraqi people will make a revolution against the American and coalition soldiers ... we believe that if they have many losses, they will leave."

The deaths have been increasing. Some recent cases:

_June 5. Fallujah. One American soldier was killed and five were wounded after their vehicle was shot with a rocket-propelled grenade.

_June 7. Tikrit. One soldier was killed, five were wounded by small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.

_ June 8. Al Qaim, west of Baghdad. One American soldier was killed at a checkpoint. A group of people in a car said they needed help for a sick person, and two people jumped out with pistols, opening fire.

_June 13. Outside Balad, north of Baghdad. Iraqis attacked a tank convoy with rocket-propelled grenades. Afterward, U.S. Central Command issued a statement saying 27 Iraqis were killed during and after the skirmish. Military officials later said the correct number was seven.

The U.S. military has refused to release the number of Iraqis killed overall by American bullets.

"We understand that nobody wants an `occupying force,'" said an Army spokesman who demanded anonymity under the rules of a briefing. "We really don't like using that word, but it is the only word available."

Even Iraqis who say it's the Baath Party that's making trouble concede that many people who were never part of the party are reaching the boiling point.

Dr. Fath Allah al Ankar, a returned exile and head of the Iraqi Society for Freedom and Democracy, a new political party, said Baathists were trying to stir things up, but added: "We are angry because since the Americans took over here, they are not taking care of human beings."

Thekra Aftan said soldiers took her husband, Ahmed Jomaa, early Monday morning from their home in Khaldiyah. Family members said Jomaa had lost his left foot in the Iran-Iraq war. The soldiers came barreling through their house at dawn, grabbed Jomaa from his bed and searched for weapons, Aftan said. They probably were drawn to the house because of empty military crates outside that once were used to store TNT and guns. The family bought the boxes as scrap for firewood, Aftan said.

The United States is guilty of terrorism, she said: "If I find any American soldiers, I will cut their heads off."

Last Thursday, residents in At Agilia—a village north of Baghdad—said two of their farmers and five others from another village were killed when U.S. soldiers shot them while they were watering their fields of sunflowers, tomatoes and cucumbers.

On Friday, the American tank convoy in nearby Balad was attacked. It's impossible to say whether the two incidents were linked, but residents clearly were shaken by the At Agilia incident.

Hitamer Muhammed, a farmer near the shooting, said the Americans opened fire because "they suspected us because we had something in our hands."

"There are no human rights here," he said. "Where is the democracy rule, as they claimed? Tell Mr. Bush we are waiting."


(Lasseter and Pompilio reported from towns in the Sunni Triangle.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.