BAGHDAD -- For six months, the Arab foreigners lived quietly in a Baghdad neighborhood with their wives and children, until neighbors tipped off US forces they could be insurgents.
Yesterday morning, American soldiers came to the door of a brown-brick house and -- speaking in Arabic over a loudspeaker -- ordered those inside to surrender.
When the raid was over, three men were dead, a Syrian and two Yemenis, Iraqi police said. Two of the men were shot trying to escape; the other blew himself up in the front yard. Inside the house, US troops found a weapons cache.
The US military had no comment on the incident.
But witnesses and Iraqi police described how Iraqi civilians, increasingly frustrated with guerrilla violence, are cooperating with the US-led coalition to catch suspected rebels.
Other Iraqi neighbors applauded the move.
"Had I known who they were, I would have turned them in myself," said Almas Zia Youssef, 24, standing with curious onlookers outside the house where her neighbors were killed at dawn.
"This is terrorism," she said of foreigners who sneak across Iraq's desert borders to join the anti-American insurgency. "This is tarnishing the image of the country, and it shows the coalition troops are not in control after the liberation."
US commanders have struggled for months to win the trust of Iraqis, hoping they will provide information useful in combating the anti-American insurgency. But since ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was captured last month, US officers say, more Iraqi civilians are coming forward with information about roadside bombs, planned attacks, and guerrillas-in-hiding.
That's what happened in al-Moalemeen, a Shi'ite Muslim neighborhood in southeastern Baghdad where the three foreign Arabs lived. Iraqi police said someone in the neighborhood told American forces the men appeared suspicious.
Many Iraqis are growing angry with the insurgents because of the increasing number of civilian Iraqis killed or injured in attacks. On Sunday, 31 people were killed and about 120 wounded in a suicide car bombing near coalition headquarters.
The overwhelming majority of the dead and injured were Iraqi civilians. Foreign fighters, estimated by US officials to number a few thousand, often get the blame -- even though US and coalition officials believe most of the attacks are carried out by Iraqis linked to Hussein's former regime.
"We were liberated from oppression that lasted for 35 years," said a neighbor, Bilal Ibrahim, 20, referring to the ouster of Saddam. "No jihad [holy war] or resistance is needed at all."
"This is not jihad. This is terrorism," said another neighbor, Fadi Jamal, 18. "They are killing Iraqis. We don't need [foreign] Arabs in our midst."
The American troops arrived at the foreigners' house at about 1:15 a.m., Iraqi police said. Over the loudspeaker, they ordered the Arabs to "step out of the house, your hands up. These are coalition troops. Do not resist."
Only the men's wives and their three children came out. Fifteen minutes later, the shooting started. Two of the men were shot while trying to escape. The third blew himself up with a grenade in the front yard of the house.
Inside the house, the Americans found automatic weapons, grenades, TNT and other explosives, the official said. One of the wives was taken into custody. The two other women and three children were not detained.
"This was a terrorist safe-house," police Captain Ali Dawoud said.
Hours after the raid, dozens of neighbors gathered outside the house, staring at the large patch of dried blood in the yard.
Neighbors said the six adults and the three children moved into the house six months ago, and kept to themselves.
On the rare occasions the wives ventured out, their faces were covered by black veils that left only the eyes exposed.