Veil of Secrecy Around Village Hit in U.S. Raid (NY TIMES) By PATRICK E. TYLER MUGER ADDIB, Iraq 06/25/03)
NEW YORK TIMES
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MUGER ADDIB, Iraq, June 24 — On a desolate panorama of hardtack
desert along the Syrian border here, the United States military has
cordoned off part of this village, evicted five families whose houses
were bombed six days ago and refused to say what is going on.
Two villagers were killed, a young woman, Hakima Khalil, and her
infant daughter, Maha, in an aerial assault that began just after 1
At dusk today, a convoy of more than 20 military transports arrived
with earth-moving equipment and pulled into the circle of Bradley
fighting vehicles that guard every approach to this sandy knoll
littered with broken masonry and bomb-damaged homes.
"Stop right there," said Specialist Arthur Myers of New Jersey. "If
you take a picture, I will break your camera."
The attack on the village followed a strike by American Special
Forces troops on several vehicles near a Syrian border post five
miles east of here. American officials in Washington described what
happened as an operation focusing on a convoy of vehicles believed to
be carrying senior officials of the former government of Saddam
Hussein. It was not clear what they were seeking in this village,
however. This stretch of border about 50 miles southwest of the main
border crossing point at Qaim is known as a smuggler´s haven, and
Muger Addib in Arabic means "Wolf´s Den." The villagers grow wheat
and raise sheep by day, but they are also believed at night to run a
brisk smuggling trade in native sheep, which fetch a better price in
Syria and Lebanon than they do in Iraq.
Since the end of the military campaign that toppled Mr. Hussein´s
government, smugglers have also specialized in assisting Iraqi
families seeking to leave the country and join relatives abroad
across the border. American officials also suspect that former
members of Mr. Hussein´s government have used remote border crossings
like this one to escape occupation forces.
The villagers here are from the Shamar tribe, known for its loyalty
to Mr. Hussein´s government. They migrated here 35 years ago from the
Ramadi area just west of Baghdad.
Since the attack, families have doubled up and the evicted villagers
spend their days trying to see what is going on in their houses,
beyond the American sentries, a few hundred yards away. One elder,
Daham Haraj, said the villagers wanted to retrieve the money and
jewels they kept hidden in their houses.
"If you go and ask them for a glass of water, they wouldn´t give it
to you," said Hamid Muhammad Abul Fahad, 40, speaking of the soldiers
who have sealed off the knoll where the five houses stand. "We are a
village at the end of the world and we don´t have Saddam Hussein
here. We haven´t seen him and we are not harboring him."
Indeed, the landscape here is forbidding, especially on a day like
today when a west wind whipped up a sandstorm that forced most of the
men to wrap their heads with their kaffiyehs, or head scarves, to
blunt the onslaught of sand.
Out to the east, the horizons of the Syrian desert unfold to the same
limitless expanse that the ancients traveled. The only signs of
modernity are the occasional fresh tracks of American armored
The sequence of events that preceded the attack suggests that
American officials believed they had achieved an intelligence
breakthrough with the capture June 16 of Abid Hamid Mahmoud al-
Tikriti, Mr. Hussein´s closest confidante and longtime personal
Officials in Washington, without citing Mr. Mahmoud in particular,
said they had received information that Mr. Hussein or his sons, Uday
and Qusay, may have been traveling near the Syrian border.
Separately, a senior official in the Kurdish Democratic Party, Hoshar
Zebari, said in an interview in Baghdad that Kurdish security
officials had received intelligence that Mr. Mahmoud had just
returned from Syria when he was captured.
And, Mr. Zebari added, Mr. Mahmoud was carrying several million
dollars when captured along with a cache of blank Belarussian
passports obtained in Syria. He said those discoveries suggested that
members of Mr. Hussein´s household might be preparing to escape, or,
perhaps, were creating a diversion in the direction of Syria to cover
their movement elsewhere.
The attack here may have been set in motion by a final piece of
intelligence that a convoy of senior members of Mr. Hussein´s
government were traveling in the vicinity of Qaim.
The intelligence reports may have intersected last Wednesday when
helicopters appeared here just after 10 p.m. and then wheeled quickly
toward the border where they struck the trucks.
The villagers watched and listened to the attack that began late
Wednesday night, and said they saw at least two vehicles burning on
"They first started hitting the Syrian border and then they came at
us," Mr. Fahad said. "We saw something like a shooting star going
through the sky and then it dropped on our village."
Mahmoud Hamad, 24, was sleeping on a cot outside, as is the custom
here in the heat of summer, when the first missile struck his house
and raked his bed with shrapnel. He was recovering from his wounds
today at the Qaim General Hospital, 50 miles to the northeast.
"I can´t remember much except that blood was everywhere and I was
dizzy," he said.
His brother, Ahmed Hamad, 27, was farther away from the house on
another pallet. "I heard it when it hit, and I felt the wind and fire
of the blast and then I saw my brother falling down and I ran to him."
Muhammad Hamad, 25, said his wife and daughter were killed instantly
by shrapnel from the missile strike.
Today, the desert just inside the Syrian border was littered with the
debris of an attack that destroyed three vehicles, a pickup truck, a
large transport truck and a tanker similar to those used for carrying
water or smuggling petroleum products across this remote frontier to
A charred AK-47 assault rifle was visible in the wreckage of the
The vehicles destroyed in the desert were typical of those used in
the smuggling of sheep, which is a common form of commerce here — a
lead pickup with an armed guard, a transport for the sheep and a
water tanker needed to water the flock on the long passage across the
Syrian desert to market.
American officials have said that five Syrian border guards were
wounded in the attack, and that three of them remain in American
They would not say whether the guards were hit by ground fire or from
the air. Syria has yet to comment on the incident.
At the Syrian border post today, the garrison of about a dozen
soldiers went to general quarters when a reporter approached from the
Iraqi side, making the passage across a stretch of no-man´s land too
dangerous for inquiry.
The arrival of earth-moving equipment here suggested that American
military forces may be preparing to set up a base here to guard this
section of border. (Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
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