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AD-DAWR, Iraq (AP) - Heavily armed U.S. Army forces stormed into a village near the northern city of Tikrit before dawn Thursday, seizing more than 260 prisoners, including one man on the United States' most-wanted list of former Iraqi officials.
U.S. troops encountered no resistance during the five-hour sweep, officers said. About 230 of those detained were being released later in the day, the military said.
Tikrit is Saddam Hussein's hometown, and the region around it is known as a hotbed of Baath Party supporters and former high-ranking Iraqi military officials who enjoyed favored treatment under the now-deposed regime.
U.S. officials said one of those arrested Thursday was on the "top 55" list but did not give the suspect's name. The U.S. Central Command announced Thursday the arrest of Fadil Mahmud Gharib, former Baath Party chairman of the Babil district. It said he was No. 47 on the most-wanted list, but the statement didn't say when or where he was arrested and it did not appear that he was arrested in Thursday's raid.
Five Iraqi special security forces offers also were caught in the raid _ including two Iraqi army generals and a general from Saddam's security forces who had disguised himself as a shepherd.
"We're going to continue to hunt them until they get so tired of running that they give themselves up or we catch them," said Maj. Mike Silverman, operations officer for the 1st Brigade of the 4th Infantry, the Army division that staged the raid.
"I think it was very successful," Silverman added. "We got one top-55 guy and about a dozen fairly bad guys off the street. And again we sent the message that we know the shadow regime is out there and it won't be tolerated."
Under military rules, the name of the village could not be released by reporters accompanying U.S. forces until permission was given.
Commanders for the 1st Brigade had been planning the raid, dubbed "Operation Planet X," for a week after receiving a tip the men were living in the area.
About 2 a.m. Thursday, U.S. troops formed a cordon around the outer perimeter of a nine-block area. The military operation involved more than 500 soldiers, who sealed off the village and went from house to house. About 200 houses and outlying buildings were searched before the sweep ended at 7 a.m.
None of the targets was identified. It was not immediately clear whether another top official also on the most-wanted list had been among those rounded up.
Silverman said no one shot at U.S. forces during the maneuver.
Among the 200 people taken into custody were some teenage boys and elderly men. Each was zip-cuffed _ had their hands tied with plastic _ and ordered to sit or kneel on the roads outside their homes. Many were kept in custody outside a large mansion with high walls.
Eighteen Bradley fighting vehicles, 12 Howitzers and 35 armored Humvees secured the area as forces moved in. Six boats patrolled the nearby Tigris River during the maneuver, and Apache helicopters hovered overhead.
Seventeen bricks of plastic explosive were seized from one house, military officials said, and one man was apprehended in a sniper's perch toting an AK-47 assault rifle.
A large stack of brand-new Iraqi currency was found at another house, the military said. At another, a soldier emerged carrying a camouflage military uniform top.
Two explosions were heard after the raid from an area close to the village. Military officials said they believed they were mortar rounds but the blasts caused no damage.
"It went a lot smoother than we thought," said Lt. Col. Mark Woemper.
Patrols had been discreetly combing the streets of the village to gather intelligence, while a drone surveillance aircraft has been providing up-to-date photographs and real-time video of the area for two days.
Silverman said the raids should make clear to people in areas around Tikrit what they should do.
"If they don't want their lives disrupted, they can just tell us where the bad guys are," he said. "Because it's our job to find them, one way or another."
Separately, U.S. forces on the Tigris River north of Tikrit fired a warning flare at a boat after it was seen being loaded early Thursday with cases of unidentified materials. The Americans said they came under fire from the boat and fired back, killing everyone on the vessel.
Also Thursday, Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. ground forces, said coalition forces would begin arresting people possessing or selling firearms. He said the new administrators of Iraq will soon decree a set of laws aimed at re-establishing law and order throughout the nation.
Tens of thousands of firearms, ranging from pistols and revolvers to Kalashnikov assault rifles, were distributed by Saddam's government to close supporters in the runup to the war. Many people purchased guns as the war approached, and thousands more guns were looted from abandoned armories in the aftermath of the regime's collapse.
"Coalition forces will hunt down these people, who through their irresponsible acts are threatening the lives of every man, woman and child," McKiernan said in a statement read on coalition-run radio.
(Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)