Raids In Tense Iraqi Town

US Army soldiers are greeted by Iraqi children while manning a checkpoint outside Sadr City, the largest Shiite Muslim enclave in Baghdad, Monday Oct 20, 2003. (AP Photo/ Karim Kadim)
Coalition troops and Iraqi police arrested 32 people Tuesday in raids in the Shiite Muslim holy city Karbala, and U.S. troops fired in the air to disperse a crowd at the Oil Ministry after a woman objected to a search by a sniffer dog.

Polish military spokesman Capt. Andrzej Wiatrowski said the raid in Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, took place before dawn. An undetermined quantity of weapons and ammunition were seized.

U.S. officials said only that the targets were "criminal elements" in the city, where an American lieutenant colonel and two other U.S. soldiers were killed last week.

Tensions rose in Karbala last week after a transport official seized a bus owned by followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and held him in the al-Mukayam mosque, where one of al-Sadr's offices are located. That led to clashes between rival Shiite groups in which and several people were killed or injured.

In other developments:

  • A full 24 hours after the deaths of two civilians and an American soldier in Fallujah, the U.S. command in Baghdad said it still had no comment on an allegation by the family of one of the dead civilians that he was killed by American troops after they detained him.
  • A human rights organization says it has confirmed 20 civilian deaths under questionable circumstances in Baghdad since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, and has received credible reports of dozens more.
  • U.S. officials suspect that Syrian banks hold $3 billion in funds from Saddam Hussein's regime, and want the money returned to Iraq. Iraqi money is also believed to be in Lebanon, Jordan, Japan, Turkey, and Switzerland, The New York Times reports.
  • Russia doesn't intend to contribute funds to rebuilding Iraq, but hopes to win international donors' support for the contracts its companies signed with Saddam's regime, a senior diplomat said Tuesday.
  • Despite setbacks from sabotage and looting, Iraq's oil ministry plans to develop four new oil fields in 2004 and restore the country's daily crude production to its prewar level of 2.8 million barrels by March, the ministry's chief executive said.
  • Two National Guard soldiers who married Iraqi women against their commander's wishes will have to wait at least eight months to return home with their brides, according to a lawyer for one of the soldiers.

    The confrontation at the Oil Ministry illustrated the cultural chasm that divides the U.S. occupation from ordinary Iraqis. It began when 28-year-old Amal Karim showed up for work Tuesday morning and faced a routine search at the ministry entrance by U.S. soldiers.

    When the Americans told her to submit her bag to a sniff-search by a dog, she refused, saying the bag held a copy of the Quran, Iraqi witnesses later reported.

    Devout Iraqis often carry Islam's holy book with them, and Muslims consider dogs to be dirty, disease-spreading animals.

    "When she refused, the American soldiers took the Quran out of her bag and threw it to the ground," said one woman, Zaineb Rahim. "Then the American soldiers handcuffed Amal."

    Pushing and punching followed between soldiers and Iraqis, Americans struck out with rifle butts, and soon about 100 Iraqis had gathered in angry protest outside the huge, modern building on Baghdad's northern edge, leading the Americans to fire shots in the air, the witnesses said.

    As the protesters hoisted an Iraqi flag, officers of the tiny, newly formed Iraqi army appeared, trying to ease tensions. Karim was eventually released and was summoned to the oil minister's office, colleagues reported.

    The incident Monday in Fallujah began when insurgents attacked a dismounted patrol from the 82nd Airborne Division with a homemade bomb and small-arms fire.

    Reporters and Iraqi witnesses said the paratroopers raked the area with return fire, then raided a mosque and houses looking for the attackers. They detained at least nine Iraqis, including a woman, residents said.

    The Associated Press saw that one of the civilians killed, Iraqi Nazem Baji, had a gunshot wound in the back of his head and his hands were tied in front of him with plastic bands similar to those used by the U.S. military when they arrest suspects.

    The victim's brother said he had been told by witnesses that the Americans bound and executed Baji. The U.S. military press office in Baghdad said it had no information on the allegation.