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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 November, 2003, 16:14 GMT
Iraqis question US tactics

By Peter Biles
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

It is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and after nightfall the streets of Baghdad are clogged with people coming out to break their fast and socialise.

But in recent days, they have been hearing American helicopters swooping low over the city in the dark.

Baghdad man reading a newspaper as a US soldier stands on a truck nearby
US troops have become a common sight on Baghdad's streets
As part of Operation Iron Hammer, a fearsome array of air power has been used.

The US military makes no apology that it may be using a hammer to crack a nut. For the most part, this mighty force has been aimed at abandoned buildings which the coalition believes guerrillas may have been using.

"Operation Iron Hammer, Operation Ivy Cyclone and like operations quite simply will continue as long as there are people out there that will attack the coalition and Iraqi citizens," said spokesman Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt.

We need rapid action to prove to the people what they are doing
Baghdad resident
"Conditions on the ground will always form our basis for whether these operations need to continue or not."

In the upmarket Mansour district of Baghdad, there are mixed views about whether this new heavy-handed American approach is the best way of dealing with the Iraqi resistance.

"They are hitting maybe with bombs and places some people which are not involved in these things, so when they are going to hit the place, they should consider about the people, the families," one man said.

Another man said many people were afraid and did not feel safe in their own country.

"Iraqi people are not the same as other Arab countries, they are different," he said. "They won't accept the Americans staying here so long. Everything has a time to finish, so it has to be finished one day."

Iraqi fears

A third man said he could not understand why the US forces had not yet captured ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi police stand guard as Baghdad residents queue for work
The US plans to speed up the training of Iraqi police
"We are happy with what they are doing here, but we need rapid action to prove to the people what they are doing," he said.

Iraq's Governing Council has consistently asked for more security powers to be placed in the hands of Iraqis, the rapidly expanding police force and other new security structures.

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the Council, fears America's strong-arm tactics may backfire by alienating many Iraqis.

"Our main aim should be to gain those people and isolate Saddam, people and the terrorists," he said. "But this way, I am afraid we will lose some of those people and will alienate them and I am afraid it sometimes plays into the hands of Saddam and the other terrorists."

Everyone, including the United States agrees that security cannot be tackled by military means alone.

But Mr Othman believed there were still shortcomings in US policy.

"The most important thing if you want to succeed in planning a solution for the security threats, is to have information, to have more intelligence, to have better intelligence, to know where are these people, what are they doing," he said.

"With that, you could succeed much more than with using force, helicopters, tanks and these things, because I think the Americans, they don't have much delicate information about what's going on."

It is still too early to say whether the US military operations will reduce the violence in Iraq. But it may be that only the increased involvement of Iraqis themselves in running the country will do the trick.

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