Wed, December 3, 2003
US army uses bulldoze threat to get Iraqis to talk
By Andrew Hammond
HAWIJA, Iraq, Dec. 3 — When U.S. soldiers found explosives in the house of Aziz Abdel-Wahhab and his elderly wife during a raid in the Iraqi town of Hawija, they proposed swift and direct punishment -- demolishing the building.
|An Iraqi woman gestures outside her house, destroyed in a U.S. army 173rd Airborne Brigade operation, in the Iraqi town of Hawija December 3, 2003. Up to 1,000 U.S. troops swept into Hawija on Tuesday to hunt for masterminds of a relentless guerrilla war and caught 27 suspects.|
''This house is the heart of terrorism and if you're going to
harbour terrorism we're going to remove you from the community,''
said 1st Lieutenant Steve Brignoli, explaining the order to
destroy the one-storey stone house in a Hawija suburb.
''This will be a show of force, to embolden the local
The explosives were found during a major operation by the
173rd Airborne Brigade, which sent more than a thousand troops
into Hawija on Tuesday to hunt for guerrillas in the town west
of the strategic oil hub of Kirkuk.
''Because of stuff like this we lost two paratroopers here.
This is the stuff they typically use to take American lives,''
Brignoli said, sifting through a box of dynamite sticks,
electrical cables and switches.
A crowd of locals had gathered in the street by the time
Abdel-Wahhab emerged on crutches with his wife Bushra.
''Tell him we found enough explosives to flatten this
neighbourhood,'' a soldier ordered one of the army translators.
The toothless old man could hardly talk, but mumbled a few
words about his son Adel.
In a tactic used by Israeli authorities in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip but new to Iraq, a bulldozer was positioned in front
of the house ready to destroy it. The translators, minority
Turkmen, Kurds and Assyrian Christians, were getting nervous.
''Where's he going to go?'' someone asked unit commander Major
Andrew Rohling. ''He's gonna go with his son who's building the
bombs,'' Rohling barked back.
Then Bushra, her hands covered in traditional red henna,
offered some information. Adel came and went from their home,
but he was maybe at his brother's place, she said.
''OK, I'm not gonna destroy the house. Just the front, as a
show of force,'' Rohling announced, at which the bulldozer
brought down the front wall of the compound and Bushra was
bundled into a Humvee.
''All of this is a crime against me after all the hardship
I've suffered in life,'' the old woman muttered.
HEARTS AND MINDS
As troops headed off in search of Adel, public affairs
officer Major Doug Vincent, whose job is to win hearts and
minds, handed out fliers apologising for any inconvenience.
''These operations were carried out with local authorities to
ensure your security and a more safe and free Iraq for all
Iraqis in which to raise your children and practice your
religion without fear,'' the leaflets said. Locals stood and
watched in silence as the convoy moved off.
Sabah, Adel's brother, was at his home in the town and
offered to lead the American troops to his brother in the fields
he ploughs nearby. ''I'm only doing this because I don't want
them to destroy the house,'' he said.
After a 15-minute drive through muddy fields, the troops
found Adel. There was no shoot-out. He raised his hands behind
his head and walked over to the Humvees.
''Farmers stored weapons in the house during the war. Only
one of the Kalashnikovs is mine,'' he said.
The soldiers, who had expected a more violent capture,
demurred. ''We'll take him to our detention centre and
intelligence will see if he changes his story,'' Vincent said.
As the operation in Hawija came to an end, a U.S. soldier
driving journalists who had accompanied troops on the raid asked
how the American military's work in Iraq was being viewed.
''I'm interested to know what the outside world thinks,'' he
said, adding that threatening to destroy the house had just been
a ruse to coax Abdel-Wahhab or his wife to talk.
''We weren't really going to do that. We've never done it, at
least not in Kirkuk,'' he said. ''But note she only started
talking when she saw the bulldozer.''