AITHA, Iraq, March 4 (UPI) -- U.S. and Iraqi security forces chip away at al-Qaida's pool of IED makers and planters in Saladin province in nightly raids dependent on luck as well as good intelligence.
Take, for example, two recent operations in the Tigris River Valley south of Mosul by U.S. troops working in support of a small detachment of Iraqi police and soldiers. The first, in the center of the village of Aitha, netted three detainees and bomb-making materials. The second, on the next night, on a farm house in the al-Jazirah desert netted frustration.
"The intelligence is good, and the IPs (Iraqi Police) have been watching the house for the guy they want for a couple of days now," Lt. Mike Douglas said before leaving a U.S. compound in the city of Sharqat, about a 40-minute drive from the target. "They think he's in there and we're going to roll him up."
Aitha, a sprawling community of adobe and cement homes near the main highway leading from Tikrit in Saladin province to Mosul in Ninemea province is considered a problem area by Crazy Troop, 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Improvised explosive devices planted on the highway in the vicinity of the village are commonplace. About 100 of its 10,000 residents are believed members or supporters of al-Qaida-Iraq or the closely linked Islamic State of Iraq group. Dozens more from the village are believed to have moved north to Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city and the venue for what Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki predicted would be the last "decisive" battle against al-Qaida in Iraq.
"Don't rush in," Douglas told the IP commander at a meeting point in the village. "Have tactical patience. You roll up to the house first; we and the IA (Iraqi Army) will provide security."
The first house raided, starting about midnight, was a one-room adobe structure, the main target house. Five men were found asleep and were questioned by the IPs and U.S. troops using an interpreter, as others searched inside and out for bomb-making or other suspect items. A wall cavity yielded pay dirt: wiring, the plastic shell of a television remote and a timer from a washing machine or dryer, the "signature initiator" for setting off IED explosions in the area.
"TV, TV," a suspect in his 20s said of the television remote without electronic components.
"Yes, but where's the television and where are the parts?" Douglas replied. "TV, TV," was the nervous response.
The home had no electricity, only lamps. It had no generator. And there was no television.
The washing machine timer, another said, was for the tractor in the compound, but couldn't explain how it was used on the tractor.
Three of the men were taken into custody. One was believed to be the terrorist responsible for an IED explosion in August that killed three U.S. soldiers. Two of the three claimed to be brothers, but the Iraqis noted one spoke with a foreign accent.
Five other houses in the compound were thoroughly searched, but nothing of particular note was found and the residents went back to sleep. Four-and-a half hours later the soldiers did the same. The suspects were taken off for IP questioning and when done, would be turned over to U.S. forces for further interrogation.
The next night a large, coordinated raid in the desert on a compound produced nothing, but the suspects had been there. One empty room in the house still held the warmth from a missing kerosene heater; blankets were strewn on the floor. The rest of the house, where residents had been found, was freezing.
The raid in Aitha was the result of intelligence gathered and verified by police. The second raid was the result of men being stopped at a Concerned Local Citizens (a neighborhood watch-type organization) checkpoint. One of the two men stopped was carrying a notebook with the names and physical descriptions of three security personnel to be assassinated in the Aitha/Sharqat area -- one of them was Capt. Sam Cook, commander of Crazy Troop. The notebook also contained a list of weapons to be procured and where they were to meet the arms supplier.
Later in the week four of the suspects arrested that night were transported by U.S. military convoy to Mosul for further interrogation and possible prosecution.