TIKRIT, Iraq – Iraqi security forces and U.S. Army military police swept into a desert village outside Saddam Hussein's hometown Sunday and arrested members of a gang accused of kidnappings, robberies and carjackings on a main road in the north of the country.
As dawn broke, more than 70 heavily armed, American-trained police officers accompanied by a few dozen MPs surrounded a tiny hamlet about 20 miles northeast of Tikrit (search) and stormed its half-dozen mud-brick homes.
Their targets were five members of an extended family that had for years been sought for a variety of crimes but managed to elude arrest. Tikrit police said that after the U.S.-led invasion and collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, similar gangs grew more active around this central Iraqi city.
"They have been carrying out carjackings, conducting illegal checkpoints, kidnapping and rapes," said Lt. Col. David Poirier, commander of the 720th MP Battalion from Fort Hood, Texas.
As attack Apache helicopters hovered overhead, the joint police team found their targets and two other wanted felons who had escaped from prison in the chaos after Saddam was ousted. They discovered a number of automatic weapons, two stolen cars and a box full of money.
"This is very important for Iraqi police," Poirier said. "Prior to the war they felt they were not supported enough in cleaning this up. Now with our support they are able to affect some change in this area and it will really help the people who traverse this road between Tikrit and Kirkuk. There have been several carjackings and attacks along this highway."
The raid was the second in as many weeks along the dusty villages lining the foothills of the Jabal Hambin ridge. Two weeks ago a joint Iraqi-U.S. strike team arrested 27 people and confiscated stolen vehicles.
Many of the men involved in the raid have been trained by the MPs. Tikrit and its surrounding province has about 1,500 Iraqi police officers.
U.S. military forces prefer to have Iraqi police conduct such raids, providing needed support when necessary. U.S. Army units also conduct frequent raids seeking Saddam loyalists and guerrillas responsible for attacks against American military forces in and around Tikrit.
"People who own these houses don't feel so intimidated when it's their own people approaching," Poirier said.