Heet, Iraq — In the third consecutive day of Iraqi violence against the U.S. military occupation of the country, residents enraged over house-to-house searches in this western town ransacked the police station, stoned U.S. armored military vehicles and set police cars on fire Wednesday.
With a large, uncontrolled mob still roaming the streets as dusk fell, it was impossible to determine exactly what triggered the riot, but in a series of chaotic interviews laced with anti-American rage and threats of vengeance, residents said the problems began when police allegedly assisted the U.S. troops in searching local homes for weapons.
As night fell, there was no sign of either the police or U.S. forces in the town, and plumes of pitch-black smoke billowed into the air as the remains of two police cars burned along a main street.
There were no immediate reports of casualties Wednesday.
The Pentagon said that it was aware of anti-American disturbances in several cities Wednesday, including Heet.
Already this week, ambushes carried out Tuesday in Baghdad, and Monday and Tuesday in the city of Fallujah, have left four U.S. soldiers dead and 15 wounded.
As in the earlier incidents, the violence in Heet appeared to be driven -- at least in part -- by an exploding fury at living conditions that have plunged the lives of many Iraqis into chaos, including a widespread lawlessness and a lack of essential services such as drinking water, electricity and medical supplies.
Residents here said that U.S. troops had provoked anger Tuesday when they conducted house searches in an outlying neighborhood of the town and arrived shortly after dawn Wednesday to set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the town. They then began searching homes with the help of local police.
When the searches continued despite what residents called a peaceful protest, a second, angrier, protest formed in the late afternoon that quickly turned violent.
Both the U.S. troops and the police immediately withdrew from the town when the riot started, residents reported.
"They forced women and children to leave their houses," shouted Esmael Rabee, a construction worker who made his voice heard above the shouts of those who had crowded around the lone foreign reporter on the scene. "They violated the dignity and honor of our women. We won't accept this violation.
"The people will do more of this if the Americans come in here again," he added, shaking his fist as those around him shouted approval. "They showed no respect for our way of life."
Heet, a town of about 20,000, is 100 miles west of Baghdad in an area whose inhabitants are mainly conservative Sunni Muslims.