Stefan Zaklin  /  Pool via AP
A U.S. soldier with the 4th Infantry Division uses a sledgehammer to break the padlock of a store in the industrial zone of Samarra on Wednesday. news services
updated 12/17/2003 7:51:07 PM ET 2003-12-18T00:51:07

U.S. troops smashed down workshop doors and junkyard gates with sledgehammers, crowbars, explosives and even armored vehicles Wednesday in a massive raid to hunt for pro-Saddam Hussein militants and stamp out the increasingly bold anti-U.S. resistance.

In downtown Samarra, soldiers blasted open the front gates of walled homes, bringing cries from women and children inside. At least a dozen men suspected of waging guerrilla attacks were rounded up, although others got away, apparently tipped off.

“Locksmiths will make a lot of money these days,” said a U.S. soldier, laughing as he sat atop a Bradley fighting vehicle in the city’s industrial zone, where doors were shattered.

Nearly 2,500 troops from the 4th Infantry Division were taking part in the sweep in Samarra, north of Baghdad, which has emerged as a hotspot in anti-U.S. guerrilla action.

Three Iraqis killed in U.S. crackdown
In Mosul, U.S. forces killed three attackers and detained 11 more suspected guerrillas in a new crackdown Wednesday as violence and instability gripped the country.

U.S. forces said the three attackers were killed when they tried to mount a drive-by shooting. A fourth attacker was wounded.

The U.S. military said it had stepped up an offensive to stamp out attacks on U.S.-led occupying forces and Iraqis cooperating with the United States that it blames on Saddam supporters and foreign Islamic militants.

Nearly 200 U.S. soldiers have been killed in attacks since President Bush declared major combat over on May 1.

The coalition scored a major victory Saturday by nabbing Saddam, who Iraqi officials revealed Wednesday was being held in the Baghdad area. But violence has continued in the capital and in the predominantly Sunni areas west and north of Baghdad. Assailants also shot and killed a policeman Wednesday in Mosul, police said, and Iraqi security forces injured nine people when they opened fire on pro-Saddam protesters, witnesses said.

Blast called an accident
Meanwhile, U.S. military officials said Wednesday night that the explosion of a fuel tanker after a collision in a Baghdad intersection earlier in the day was an accident, not a terrorist attack. The blast left 10 Iraqis dead.

Iraq’s deputy Interior Minister, Ahmed Kadhim Ibrahim, had said the truck was packed with explosives and the intended target was a police station.

The sweep in Samarra, a city of of 200,000 about 20 miles south of the town where Saddam was captured Saturday, began before dawn, continuing an operation that began Tuesday.

In the first day of the raid, dubbed Operation Ivy Blizzard, U.S. soldiers snared a suspected rebel leader and 78 other people, all in one building near Samarra where they apparently were planning attacks. On Monday, guerrillas in the city ambushed a U.S. patrol, sparking a battle in which soldiers killed 11 attackers.

“Samarra has been a little bit of a thorn in our side,” Col. Nate Sassaman said. “It hasn’t come along as quickly as other cities in the rebuilding of Iraq. This operation is designed to bring them up to speed.”

“No one knows the town better than we do, we’re gonna clean this place. They’ve made a mistake to attack U.S. forces. We will dominate Samarra,” he said.

With Saddam in custody, the most wanted Iraqi fugitive is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a high-ranking member of the former regime thought to be organizing anti-U.S. attacks. But it was unclear whether U.S. officials thought Ibrahim was in the Samarra area.

A core of about 1,500 fighters is thought to be in Samarra, said Sassaman’s deputy, Capt. Matthew Cunningham. In Wednesday’s sweep, soldiers used satellite global positioning devices to locate buildings pre-marked as targets.

As Apache helicopters flew overhead, troops downtown fanned out in squads of 14 to storm several walled residential compounds, using plastic explosives to break in. In one compound, the blast at the gate shattered windows in the house itself, and a 1-year-old baby was cut by glass. U.S. medics treated the injury while other soldiers handcuffed four men, who were later released.

The loud blasts mixed with the sound of women and children screaming inside the houses. At one point, there was a short exchange of gunfire, but it was not immediately clear what happened.

At another home, an explosion ignited a small fire.

Elsewhere, a suspect was punched in the head and a soldier said: “You’re dead. You’re dead.”

Troops later moved on to the industrial area, where they found little. One military official said he suspected that insurgents had moved much of their equipment to farms outside town.

Lt. Jack Saville said suspects had been tipped off about the raid, either by Iraqis working on the U.S. base in Tikrit or by Samarra residents who saw the U.S. military vehicles massing in the region in recent days.

Sassaman said troops in Samarra seized four rocket-propelled grenade launchers and a dozen assault rifles, as well as bomb-making material.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: U.S. military raids militant stronghold


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