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Iraq: U.S. Says Senior Ba'ath Party Official Captured By Coalition Forces

Camp Sayliyah, Qatar; 18 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. military today said coalition forces have captured the fourth Iraqi official on the U.S. list of 55 wanted Iraqis. General Vincent Brooks said Samir Abd al-Aziz al-Najim, a senior Ba'ath Party official, has been handed over to U.S. troops by Iraqi Kurds near the northern city of Mosul overnight.

"The man who was captured yesterday and turned over to us by Kurds is, in fact, one of the top 55 [Iraqi regime] leaders. He has been positively identified as such, and he is now in coalition control," Brooks said.

According to Brooks, al-Najim was the Ba'ath Party regional command chairman for east Baghdad. He was the oil minister until earlier this year and was Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's chief of staff for several years after the 1991 Gulf War.

Brooks also said efforts are under way to improve medical care in Iraqi hospitals. U.S. Marines have said they hope to restore electricity to more than half of Baghdad's 5 million residents today.

In a separate development, the exiled Ayatollah Muhammad Baqiral-Hakim, leader of Iraq's largest Shi'ite opposition group, has called on Iraqis to meet in the holy city of Karbala on 22 April to oppose a projected U.S.-sponsored interim administration. Thousands of Iraqi Shi'ites started the pilgrimage to Karbala today.