Special Reports

Alpha raid Part II: 'Where they go, we have no idea'

An Iraqi SWAT team, Army Special Forces and the 116th's Alpha Company descend on the Wahid Huzayran neighborhood to raid insurgent hideouts.

A whoosh followed by a boom exploded in the sky. It was illumination artillery fired from nearby Forward Operating Base Warrior. The flares swung from parachutes and lit the sky in a pallid yellow glow that made the night sky brighter than a full moon.

A column of police and soldiers ran several blocks to the next targeted house. This time, they used a shotgun to blow the lock off the gate. They stormed the house. Women screamed, followed by more shouting. A policeman emerged on the rooftop.

All secure.

Iraqi police officers put women and children in a bedroom and guarded the door while others searched the house. They emptied cupboards, pried open locked cabinets, tore cushions off couches. Raids often produce AK-47 assault rifles, pistols and other small arms. Soldiers say rockets and bomb-making materials are tougher to find: Insurgents rarely bring them into their houses.

The police officers emerged from the house with more cuffed and blindfolded suspects, as well as an any other men they found.

"When we do a raid, we take every male in the house," Gracida said.

Those not wanted by the Iraqi police are questioned and later released.

The police and soldiers wrapped up the second raid and ran down the street to the third house. Humvees and police vehicles followed.

Despite the noise of crashing gates, gun shots, artillery rounds and shouting, no curious neighbors poked their heads out of their gates to see what the commotion was about, or turned on lights inside their homes. It was like the houses being raided were the only onesinhabited.

At the third house, soldiers and police officers grabbed several more men, even though the police and soldiers had been in the neighborhood for nearly an hour before hitting the final house.

"Half of them sleep through it and the other half don't think we're coming for them," said a Special Forces soldier.

He said once soldiers break down doors and swarm the house, the insurgents rarely resist.

After the raids, the soldiers returned to base and the police officers took the men they captured to Iraqi jails.

Insurgents aren't treated as prisoners of war. Because they are captured by Iraqi police, they fall under their jurisdiction.

Like Iraq's new government, its legal system is in its infancy. What eventually happens to insurgents caught during such raids is anyone's guess. They could be released, imprisoned or executed.

"As far as we know, they disappear. Where they go, we have no idea,"Gracida said.

— Roger Phillips