Uja, Iraq Facing an increasing tide of attacks, American soldiers Friday cordoned off the village where Saddam Hussein was born, suspecting this dusty farming community of being a secret base for funding and planning assaults against coalition forces.
"There are ties leading to this village, to the funding and planning of attacks against U.S. soldiers," said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, a battalion commander with the 4th Infantry Division, which is based in nearby Tikrit.
The operation began before dawn with hundreds of U.S. troops and Iraqi police. They erected a fence of barbed wire, stretched over wooden poles, and laid razor wire around the village, a cluster of mud-and-brick homes set in orchards of pears and pomegranates about six miles south of Tikrit.
Checkpoints were set up at all roads leading into the village of about 3,500 residents, many of them Saddam's clansmen and distant relatives.
It appeared the operation was not aimed at catching Saddam but at identifying those who live here and making sure that outsiders are quickly spotted. All adults were required to register for identity cards that U.S. officials said would allow them "controlled access" in and out of the village.
"This is an effort to protect the majority of the population, the people who want to get on with their lives," Russell said. "What we have seen repeatedly month after month is not necessarily attacks against coalition forces in this village, but there are ties to the planning and organizing these attacks. That is not fair to the rest of this village."
The intensive hunt for the deposed leader is spearheaded by the top secret Special Operations Task Force 20, and American officials in Iraq have said little about any progress. The United States has offered a $25 million reward for Saddam's capture.
Russell, during Friday's operation, noted that the village of Uja was unusual because so many key figures in the former government had roots in this area.