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In One Night, Iraqi Turns From Friend to Foe

Man Who Supported U.S. Occupation Calls Americans 'the Devil' After Alleged Raid on His House

By Jackie Spinner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page A20

BAGHDAD -- The day after the soldiers came, Imaad ordered his mother to go through her refrigerator and pantry and throw out all the cheese that had been made outside Iraq. He went around and collected any images of Westerners in the house, threw them in a pile and burned them until they were floating bits of ash. He struck his mother repeatedly and forbade her to watch foreign news or movie channels on their new television.

The Americans were "the devil," Imaad ranted.

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By all accounts, Imaad, 32, was a typical, mild-mannered college graduate who spoke English well and had quietly supported the U.S. presence in Iraq -- until Jan. 5, the night the soldiers came.

His story about that night, told days later in his small living room, is the story of how the U.S. military made an enemy of one man during a 20-minute encounter.

The U.S. military, along with Iraqi security forces, routinely conducts raids throughout Iraq to try to catch insurgents. For the troops, the missions are often dangerous; soldiers say one of the greatest difficulties they face is figuring out who is a friend and who is an enemy.

Since the war began in March 2003, 1,077 American troops have died in hostile action, official figures show. In addition, insurgents kill Iraqi troops on an almost daily basis.

Often, soldiers on raids find illegal weapons, ringleaders and vital information that can prevent more attacks. But often, the raids turn up little and leave hard feelings among civilians who resent foreign soldiers bursting into their homes, breaking doors and gates and pointing guns at their heads. They resent these men catching their wives and daughters in their bedclothes. They resent them barking orders, telling them to get on the ground, invading their homes, emptying drawers and turning over mattresses.

On the night of Jan. 5, Imaad and his mother, Um Imaad -- both of whom declined to give their full names for fear of retribution -- were watching a movie in the living room. As in most other parts of the capital for the past two months, their Adhimiya neighborhood has electricity about two hours a day. So the generators outside were humming at about 9 that night, and the television was turned up so they could hear.

Imaad said they were startled by a loud banging at the door. He went quickly to open it. When he did, Imaad said, there were about a dozen U.S. soldiers standing with their guns pointed at his head.

Imaad and his mother said the soldiers rushed in, ordering them to sit together while they searched the house. "You look poor," Imaad recalled one of the soldiers saying. "Why?"

Imaad answered in English: "I have not been able to find a job, although I'm a graduate of the College of Arts." His heart was pounding, Imaad said. His mother, a chatty widow who adores her son, sat next to him, shaking.

The soldiers went to search his bedroom. He heard laughing, and then they called for him, he said. Imaad went to his room and saw that the soldiers had found several magazines he kept hidden from his mother. They had pictures of girls in swimsuits and erotic poses. Imaad said the soldiers spread the magazines on his bed and put his Koran in the middle.

"This is a good match," Imaad said one of the soldiers told him.

"It was a nightmare," he said. "I will never forget those bad soldiers when they put the Koran among the magazines."

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