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U.S. assault sows hatred

AL-SAJR, Iraq — Backed by helicopters firing rockets, U.S. troops Tuesday attacked the village of al-Sajr, killing three Iraqis in a farmhouse and wounding three others.

U.S. forces said they attacked after they had been fired on, but residents maintained the Americans attacked without provocation.

The fighting, west of Baghdad, occurred hours before President Bush told the United Nations that American forces are “conducting precision raids against terrorists and holdouts from the former regime.”

The village incident also highlights the difficulties of combating guerrillas in densely populated areas. The fatal air-ground assault likely will deepen resentment of the U.S. occupation here.

“There never was any trouble in our village, and the Americans have never been inside it,” one of the wounded, retired army Sgt. Abed Rasheed, told The Associated Press at Fallujah General Hospital. “This is genocide. This is not about overthrowing a government or regime change.”

The U.S. military confirmed that a combined air-ground assault took place at al-Sajr, but said it knew of only one death — that of a guerrilla fighter. A military spokeswoman, Spc. Nicole Thompson, said that after having fired on a U.S. patrol, the village attackers ran into a building. She said the U.S. soldiers then called in air support.

Villagers, however, insisted that no one had fired on the Americans. They did say that U.S. soldiers detained three young men during a security sweep Sunday.

Residents said the Americans appeared in the village about 1:30 a.m. yesterday and began firing with light weapons. Villagers later heard the helicopters approaching.

Soon afterward, six missiles struck the home of Ali Khalaf Mohammed, killing the 45-year-old farmer. Two of Mohammed’s sons, ages 11 and 9, were wounded.

Villagers said two other men — Saadi Fayad and Salem Ismail — were killed after they rushed to Mohammed’s house to offer assistance.

Five craters ranging up to 10 feet wide and 3 feet deep could be seen in the courtyard of Mohammed’s home. A sixth rocket crashed through the roof. The yard of the house was strewn with broken glass. A wall on one side of the building was pocked with bullet holes.

Mohammed’s 48-year-old brother, whose first name is Mohammed, said a U.S. officer came to the house about 9 a.m. yesterday to inspect the damage. He said the officer, speaking through an interpreter, apologized and said: “We are here to protect you.”

“I replied: ‘If this is your protection, we don’t need it,’ ” Mohammed Mohammed said. “The Americans think we are protecting Saddam’s people but, in our village, we never even liked Saddam.”

Mohammed Mohammed said he couldn’t recall the name of the officer who apologized.

Al-Sajr, nine miles north of Fallujah, is part of the so-called “Sunni Triangle” — an area north and west of Baghdad where support for Saddam runs deepest and where American troops have met their stiffest resistance since the collapse of his regime in April.

During funerals for the three men yesterday afternoon, villagers and relatives wept and cursed the Americans.

“Why• Why?” screamed Jouri Mohammed, the victim’s oldest sister, as some 250 male villagers prepared to bury Khalaf Mohammed in al-Sajr’s dusty cemetery. “Why are the Americans doing this to us,” she shouted as she beat her chest and head with her hands. Two dozen women screamed and wailed in unison.

“May God’s curse fall upon the Americans, for they have no fear of God,” said Mohsen Herish, a cousin of the victim. “Are these American human rights?”


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