When US troops sealed off this ramshackle town, there was widespread speculation that they hoped to capture Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a senior Baathist official whom some believe is responsible for directing much of the anticoalition insurgency. But an intensive 24-hour search apparently failed to yield Mr. Douri. Instead, the troops departed early Wednesday morning with captured weapons and several dozen detainees, leaving behind a legacy of bitterness, frustration, and anger among the local population.
From the chief of police, incensed at being kept out of his town for the day by American troops, to the Rawi family contemplating the ruins of their partially demolished home, residents say that the search mission has only strengthened popular support for what they call the resistance.
US officers met with town officials Wednesday in an attempt to smooth frayed tempers, underlining the pitfalls of adopting robust counterinsurgency measures while trying to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.
Some coalition officials have identified Douri as the main organizer of the insurgency. Last week, a $10 million bounty was placed on his head.
Douri was thought to have been put out of commission on Tuesday, when a member of the Iraqi Governing Council announced that he had been "killed or captured." US officials later denied the capture in ambiguous terms that left open the possibility that Douri had been killed or captured by a non-US force. By the reckoning of many analysts, his capture or death could mark a turning point in what is becoming an increasingly bloody guerrilla conflict.
But many Iraqis say that the guerrillas are motivated by resentment toward the continued US-led occupation of Iraq. They say it would make no difference if Douri was captured or killed, citing the deaths in July of Qusay and Uday Hussein as having failed to quell the insurgency.
"The Americans put all their efforts into Hawijah to catch Douri. But the truth is that the Baathists are not behind the resistance. It's lots of different people now," says Lt. Col. Awad al-Jabouri, the chief of police here. "What has made the resistance stronger is the attitude of the Americans and all their illegal acts."
Douri was once vice president of the Baath Party's Revolutionary Command Council and was one of Saddam Hussein's closest aides.
Not all coalition officials seem to believe that he is as prominent a figure in the insurgency as is often implied. Anthony Cordesman, a respected military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was told by Paul Bremer, the US administrator in Iraq, that Douri's role in the insurgency was deemed insignificant and that the former Baathist official was "probably dying." According to a report compiled by Mr. Cordesman based on consultations last month with key military and civilian personnel in Iraq, most of the insurgents are former loyalists of Saddam Hussein with "loose local coordination, possibly some regional coordination. No national coordination."
Despite the media speculation, Lt. Col. William Schafer said that Douri was not the target of the raid in Hawijah.
"This raid has been planned for a while," Colonel Schafer said in Kirkuk, 30 miles east of here. "We came with a list of names of people who have attacked coalition forces."
The US military said it detained 34 people and confiscated 70 small arms and six rocket-propelled grenade launchers in the raid. Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division, manning machine guns atop mud-splattered humvees, stood guard outside the municipality building Wednesday, while officers met with councilors to discuss the previous day's events.
"A few things were broken during the operation and we're here to sort it out," says Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Maurer, from Curtis, Wisc. He says there had been an increase in indirect attacks by the insurgents, mainly improvised explosive devices and long-range shelling by mortars and rockets.
"The farmers are getting mad at us because we keep blowing up their fields when we return fire," Sergeant Maurer says.
Nonetheless, he adds, the local residents are warming to the Americans. "We are getting more and more people on our side now. I think we are winning the hearts and minds of the people," he says.
It was a telling example of the disconnect between ordinary American soldiers and the local Iraqis that Maurer was speaking just two yards from a group of residents who had spent the previous five minutes expressing their hatred for the occupation forces and support for the insurgents.
"We don't want the Americans here," says Ahmad Jafaar. "Any true Iraqi who loves his country will support the resistance."
Even the police here say they were unhappy with the manner in which the raid was conducted, not least because nobody gave them prior warning.
"I arrived at a checkpoint outside Hawijah in the morning and was told I could not come through," says Colonel Jabouri. "I told them that I am the chief of police and I have to enter. They said I couldn't and that I could take a holiday instead." He adds that some of his own policemen were among the dozens of people arrested.
"Everyone is angry. It's the first time in this town's history that we have been subject to such a raid," he says.
On the outskirts of the town, in a bleak neighborhood of simple one-story houses and potholed roads fill with rain water, Ahmad Rawi, 19, stands atop a pile of rubble that 24 hours earlier had been part of his home.
He says US soldiers, accompanied by Kurdish members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, had discovered some explosives and an AK-47 rifle hidden in a yard next to his home.
"They told us all to come outside and then they went in and searched the house," he says. "They attacked the fridge with a knife and upset all the furniture. They hit us if we went close to them."
Adil Rawi, Ahmad's 30-something brother, was arrested and taken away. A stone outbuilding used as a storeroom and a shelter for the family's cattle and chickens was bulldozed. "Support for the resistance has gone up after what the Americans have done here," says Besha, Ahmad's mother.