Muhammed Muheisen  /  AP
An ID card of Ghassan Mahmoud Ibrahim, a Syrian who was killed Monday along with two Yemenis at Al-Moalemeen district near Baghdad.
updated 1/19/2004 5:34:12 PM ET 2004-01-19T22:34:12

For six months, the Arab foreigners lived quietly in a Baghdad neighborhood with their wives and children, until neighbors tipped off U.S. forces they could be insurgents.On Monday morning, American soldiers came to the door of a brown-brick house and — speaking in Arabic over a loudspeaker — ordered those inside to surrender.When the raid was over, three men were dead, a Syrian and two Yemenis. Two of the men were shot trying to escape; the other blew himself up in the front yard. Inside the house, U.S. troops found a weapons cache.The U.S. military had no comment on the incident. But witnesses and Iraqi police described how Iraqi civilians, increasingly frustrated with guerrilla violence, are cooperating with the U.S.-led coalition to catch suspected rebels.Other Iraqi neighbors applauded the move.“Had I known who they were, I would have turned them in myself,” said Almas Zia Youssef, 24, standing with curious onlookers outside the house where her neighbors were killed at dawn.Hearts and minds
“This is terrorism,” she said of foreigners who sneak across Iraq’s desert borders to join the anti-American insurgency. “This is tarnishing the image of the country, and it shows the coalition troops are not in control after the liberation.”U.S. commanders have struggled for months to win the trust of Iraqis, hoping they will provide information useful in combating the anti-American insurgency. But since Saddam Hussein was captured last month, U.S. officers say, more Iraqi civilians are coming forward with information about roadside bombs, planned attacks and guerrillas-in-hiding.That’s what happened in al-Moalemeen, a Shiite Muslim neighborhood in southeastern Baghdad where the three Arabs lived. Iraqi police said someone in the neighborhood told American forces the men were suspicious.Many Iraqis are growing angry with the insurgents because of the increasing number of innocent Iraqis killed or injured in attacks. On Sunday, 31 people were killed and about 120 wounded in a suicide car bombing near coalition headquarters.

The overwhelming majority of the dead and injured were Iraqi civilians. Foreign fighters, estimated by U.S. officials to number a few thousand, often get the blame — even though U.S. and coalition officials believe most of the attacks are carried out by Iraqis linked to Saddam’s ousted regime.

'This is terrorism'
“We were liberated from oppression that lasted for 35 years,” said a neighbor, Bilal Ibrahim, 20, referring to the ouster of Saddam. “No jihad [holy war] or resistance is needed at all.”

“This is not jihad. This is terrorism,” another neighbor, Fadi Jamal, 18, said. “They are killing Iraqis. We don’t need Arabs in our midst.”

The American troops arrived at the foreigners’ house at about 1:15 a.m., Iraqi police said. Over the loudspeaker, they ordered the Arabs to “step out of the house, your hands up. These are coalition troops. Do not resist.”

Only the men’s wives and their three children came out. Fifteen minutes later, the shooting started. Two of the men were shot while trying to escape. The third blew himself up with a grenade in the front yard of the house, said Jassim Mouhan, an official in the local municipal council.

Tell-tale signs
Inside the house, the Americans found automatic weapons, grenades, TNT and other explosives, the official said. One of the wives was taken into custody. The two other women and three children were not held. “This was a terrorist safe-house,” police Capt. Ali Dawoud said.

Hours after the raid, dozens of neighbors gathered outside the house, starring at the large patch of dried blood in the yard. A car riddled with bullets was parked in the garage. Shattered glass lay everywhere.

Neighbors said the six adults and the three children moved into the house six months ago, and kept to themselves.

On the rare occasions the wives ventured out, their faces were covered by black Islamic veils that left only the eyes exposed. The children never went to school.

Zeina Hossam, a neighbor across the street, said the families’ behavior made her wary. “We suspected them, but were not sure,” she said.

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