NEAR TIKRIT, Iraq – Heavily armed U.S. Army forces stormed into a village near the northern city of Tikrit in the pre-dawn darkness Thursday, seizing more than 65 prisoners in a hunt for two “most-wanted” former Iraqi officials and 13 others.
No one shot at U.S. forces during the raid, U.S. military officials said.
It was not clear whether the two targets — one of them in the U.S. “top 55” list and the other in the top 20 — were among those rounded up as some of more than 500 soldiers involved sealed off the town and went house to house. The targets were not identified.
“We either surprised them or they’re not here anymore. Hopefully, we surprised them. It still could be hours before we sort everybody out,” said Maj. Mike Silverman, operations officer for the 1st Brigade of the 4th Infantry, the Army division that staged the raid.
The operation had been planned for a week after U.S. officials received a tip the men were in the area, known as a hotbed of Baath Party supporters and former high-ranking military officials.
Tikrit is the hometown of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and the city and the area around it are considered strongholds of his support.
Seventeen bricks of plastic explosive were seized from one house, military officials said, and one man was apprehended in a sniper’s perch toting an AK-47 assault rifle.
Among those taken into custody were teenage boys. Each was zip-cuffed and ordered to sit or kneel on the roads outside their homes.
Eighteen Bradley Fighting Vehicles, 12 Howitzers and 35 armored Humvees secured the area as forces moved in. Six boats patrolled the nearby Tigris river during the maneuver, and Apache helicopters hovered overhead.
Patrols have been discreetly combing the streets of the village to gather intelligence, while a drone surveillance aircraft has been flying overhead for two days providing up-to-date photographs and real-time video of the area.
At 2 a.m. Thursday local time, troops formed a cordon around the outer perimeter of a 9-block area. Three blocks of houses were searched in short order.
In one house, a large stack of brand-new Iraqi currency was found, the military said. At another, a soldier emerged carrying camouflage military uniform top.
Under military rules, the name of the village cannot be released by reporters accompanying U.S. forces until the operation is over and permission is given.
In an unrelated incident early Thursday on the Tigris River north of Tikrit, U.S. forces saw a boat being loaded with cases of unidentified materials and fired a flare in warning. The Americans came under fire from boat and fired back; they said they believed they killed everybody aboard.