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Wed, December 3, 2003

US army uses bulldoze threat to get Iraqis to talk
By Andrew Hammond

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.
REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
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.

       ''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 authorities.''
       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.

       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.''

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