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U.S. Forces Chase Ghost Fighters Amid Iraqis
On Sunday, soldiers from Eagle Squadron's Blue Platoon raided the home of a suspected insurgent named Suleiman Dawou. When they arrived at the house, Dawou was gone, but they found a man they believed to be his cousin. They asked in English if the cousin knew where Dawou was, and the man said no. Believing he was lying, the soldiers placed him in plastic cuffs and told him that he was being detained. They began filling out paperwork required to take him into custody when an interpreter arrived and tried questioning him one last time.
"I thought the soldiers said Salman Dawou," the man told the interpreter. "I know Suleiman, but I have not seen him for months." The soldiers let him go.
But while Hickey and other commanders said the participation of Iraqi troops will help immeasurably with efforts to identify insurgents, there is also concern here, as in other Sunni Arab communities across Iraq, because the Iraqi units are predominantly composed of Shiite Muslims or ethnic Kurds. Hickey said that U.S. forces have met with local Sunni leaders to encourage recruitment of Sunnis into police and army units. But after a series of meetings last month in which the tribal leaders said they would provide lists of candidates, only three names were put forward.
"Part of the problem is the security situation is so bad here that no one wants to be a policeman," Hickey said. "Once that improves, we are hoping more of them will sign up. The ideal is for people to be policing their own people, their own neighborhoods, so they have a stake in doing it right."
Civilians fleeing Tall Afar, where most residents are Sunnis from the Turkmen ethnic group, were told by U.S. troops to evacuate through checkpoints in the southern part of the city. But many said they were too afraid to enter south-side neighborhoods where most police and residents are Shiites.
The Kurdish soldiers involved in the operation here are members of the pesh merga militia that battled the Sunni-led government of former president Saddam Hussein and that supports Kurdish forces fighting the government of neighboring Turkey. They will particularly relish their role invading a stronghold of the Turkmens, who have strong ethnic ties to Turkey, American commanders said.
"They are champing at the bit," said Hickey, who denied that zeal would lead to overly aggressive tactics. "They are a professional fighting force with a good reputation. They want to keep that intact."
The man who was plucked from the ambulance and interrogated Thursday appeared genuinely frightened of facing the Iraqi police. "Please no," he repeated several times. Once soldiers realized they had a lever to extract information, they called for Iraqi policemen to sit in on the questioning. The officers said the man was involved in a gruesome killing of a local policeman who was beheaded, his corpse placed on the street with a bomb lodged inside of it that exploded when a dog began sniffing at the body.
When the policemen first entered the room, the man turned to face the corner, refusing to look at them. After a series of increasingly pointed questions shouted at him, he became defiant.
"No matter what you say, I am a holy warrior. I am going to paradise," he told the interrogators, referring to the belief cited by many insurgent fighters that those who die for their cause have a special place in the afterlife. "The rest of you are infidels who will go to hell."