U.S. troops continue to round up suspected militants in Iraq as they step up counterterrorism efforts that have been buoyed by the capture of Saddam Hussein. The past 24 hours have seen sweeps catch a senior general in Hussein's former security services and three militants with suspected links to Iraq's current most-wanted man: top Hussein aide Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri.
Prague, 23 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. forces say they have had some noteworthy success in gathering up top figures in the Iraqi insurgency thanks to the capture of Saddam Hussein earlier this month.
A senior U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant Colonel William Adamson, told Reuters that in the past 24 hours his troops detained three individuals with ties to the man Washington now most wants to catch -- former top Saddam Hussein aide Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri.
"We detained three individuals in an extremist religious organization with ties to high valued target number six, Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri and attacks in [Al-]Fallujah, Ramadi, and the Baquba area. Those three individuals are currently in our custody, including the cell leader," Adamson said.
Al-Duri, who is sixth on the list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis, is the highest-ranking former member of Hussein's inner circle still at large and is suspected of planning anticoalition attacks. The U.S.-led coalition has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his death or capture.
Adamson also said that U.S. troops captured a major general in Hussein's former intelligence service in a separate raid on 22 December night. The former top officer is suspected of recruiting ex-soldiers to attack Americans. "We detained four individuals; one was a major general of the Iraqi intelligence service and then three other individuals are all in our custody, going through interrogations," Adamson said.
The arrests come as U.S. forces say their pursuit of suspected insurgents has gotten a boost from the capture of Hussein and the seizure of information he was carrying with him. That information is reported to include a briefcase full of papers that indicated he was in regular contact with five so-called "enablers" who apprised him of the progress of the insurgency in Iraq and received some instructions from him.
The British newspaper "The Sunday Telegraph" reported this week that Hussein's enablers -- responsible for logistics, financing, planning, and operations, and including a chief of staff -- were all veterans of Hussein's security services drawn from his power base of Tikrit.
The paper quotes U.S. intelligence officials as saying the five men, one of whom revealed Hussein's hiding place after he was arrested in Baghdad, were able to meet with the former Iraqi leader and pass his commands to a second layer of subordinates who headed cells of insurgents. Hussein's commands were believed to take the form of general guidance -- such as urging increased attacks -- rather than direct control of operations.
A senior U.S. officer in Iraq, Major General David Petraeus, told Reuters yesterday that the current stepped-up raids are in part an effort to now track down the figures who had been reporting to Hussein. Petraeus said Hussein's capture "confirmed that there were a couple of key individuals involved who did in fact have contact with him periodically, perhaps got some general guidance from him or at least encouragement. These are individuals we need to pursue and we're doing that."
America's top military leader, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, told a U.S. television network on 21 December that several hundred Hussein loyalists had been rounded up in recent raids, including "some of the leadership of this insurgency...some of the cell leaders." He added that "some of the information we gleaned when we picked up Saddam Hussein led to a better understanding of the structure of the resistance from the former regime elements."
As U.S. forces step up their pursuit of insurgent leaders in an effort to identify and sweep up cells, attacks on U.S. forces have dropped in comparison to last month but continue to exact a toll.
On 22 December, two U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were killed when a military convoy was targeted with a roadside bomb. The U.S. deaths were the first in five days. They brought the U.S. death toll to 202 since Washington declared an end to major combat on 1 May.
U.S. officials have said that most attacks against their forces appear to be planned and carried out by Hussein loyalists. But they have also attributed attacks to domestic and foreign Islamic militants motivated by a hatred of the United States and operating both independently and sometimes in loose cooperation with members of the former regime.
It is unclear how much of an impact any success in rounding up cells of Hussein loyalists will have on the Islamic militants' operations.