The first hint that something might be up came at 1.30pm on Sunday afternoon. A car full of westerners in civilian clothes with cropped military-style haircuts pulled up outside the Al Sa'ah restaurant, two blocks from Prince Rabiah Muhamed al-Habib's house in the wealthy Mansur district of Baghdad.
The people going about their business in the sweltering afternoon sun did not know it at the time, but the men sitting in the car watching the street were the best the coalition forces had to offer: members of Task Force 20, the unit responsible for hunting down Saddam Hussein and other key members of the regime.
Within two hours soldiers attached to this so-called elite unit had shot and killed at least five people. Their actions have provoked anger towards the coalition in this previously peaceful and prosperous neighborhood that is likely to simmer for some time to come.
According to Ra'fet Saad, 38, a local businessman, the car loitered in the area for two hours. Moments after it pulled away there was a loud explosion from the direction of Mr al-Habib's house. Mr Saad ran to the corner, where he saw special forces descending on the building from every direction. Wearing gas masks, body armour and black T-shirts with brightly colored identification lettering on the sleeves, they blasted their way into the house.
US soldiers remove two of three cars they fired on, according to witnessess, as the cars tried to pass through a blocked street where the soldiers were believed to be raiding a house in the neighbourhood of al-Mansour.(AFP/Marwan Naamani)
Fifty yards up the street six Humvees had created a partial roadblock at a crossroads. Other troops, some dressed in civilian clothes, fanned out to block the main roads around the house, but crucially not the quieter side streets.
The first vehicle to get unlucky was a Chevrolet Malibu. For some reason, the driver did not stop as he approached the roadblock and the soldiers opened fire. Mr Saad had taken cover behind a wall. When he dared to look up, the soldiers were dragging two men away from the car. "I think they were dead," he said.
Fifteen minutes later, a Toyota Corona being driven by a man called Mazin, who was disabled and walked with the aid of a frame, arrived in the area. His wife was in the passenger seat and his teenage son in the back. If he had turned left out of the small lane that led to their house, they might all still be alive.
Instead, Mazin made the mistake of turning right towards the roadblock. A bullet from the volley of shots fired at the car passed through the windscreen and blew off the right half his head, according to Ahmed Ibrahim, who runs an optician's shop opposite the Al Sa'ah restaurant.
Nobody on the street yesterday seemed to know what had happened to his wife or teenage son, only that they had been injured and taken away by the Americans.
According to Mr Ibrahim, the soldiers were by now firing indiscriminately. A bullet struck the doorframe of his shop, while two others hit a generator belonging to the restaurant on the other side of the street. Another round hit the fuel tank of his Mercedes. It exploded in flames, setting alight the car parked next to it.
The next victim, who was in a red Mitsubishi Pajero landcruiser, was not even driving towards the roadblock. Instead, he had been traveling on a main road more than 150 yards away when he slowed down to see what the commotion was. Two bullets hit him in the chest.
Mr Ibrahim said that minutes later more troops had arrived in the area and the shooting had stopped. "One of them told me that they were looking for Ali [another of Saddam Hussein's sons]." Dressed in flowing robes and a black and white headdress, Prince Rabiah was taking the raid on his house calmly yesterday morning. "My people," he said, "want to demonstrate in all Iraq. But we want peace, so I tell them No, we do not want to make a big thing of this." He had spent Sunday in Kut, 50 miles south east of Baghdad, and was not at home when the special forces arrived. The only people in the building when the raid started had been two of his bodyguards, and the Americans had taken them away. But a neighbor told him that when the force arrived they had thrown bombs and there had been a lot of shooting.
"When we entered the house everything was upside down," he said, walking into the sitting room where a video recorder and satellite receiver had been pulled from a cabinet. "A lot of things were missing - money, two fax machines, a video camera and cassettes." In another room, two bullets had made holes and spider web patterns in the window. On the floor next to an ornate sideboard were two shotgun cartridges, which had been used to blow the locks off the door. "What do they think? That Saddam Hussein is going to be able to hide in here?" he said pointing at the cabinet.
Although the prince admits having known Saddam Hussein - "He respected me very much" - he said he had not seen the former president for many months. "I have no idea why they came here. But if they want to find anybody in this house they just have to knock on the door."
But while the prince was taking the raid calmly, elsewhere in Mansur it provoked a reaction that was anything but. "We consider the Americans now as war criminals," said Mahmoud al-Baghdadi, a 32-year-old baker. "They claim to be fighting terrorism, but they cannot defend freedom by killing disabled people."
Yaqdan Kadhem, a waiter, said that before he had felt sympathy for the Americans, but now he supported the attacks on US troops. "Until now I was against Saddam Hussein, but now I hate the Americans for what they did yesterday."
The coalition refused to comment on events in Mansur, except to say the raid had been carried out by Task Force 20.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003