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Senior Baath Party Official in U.S. Custody

Senior Baath Party Official in U.S. Custody

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WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. forces captured a former senior Baath Party leader who is No. 8 on Central Command's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis, American officials announced Thursday.

A brief Central Command statement said Aziz Saleh al-Numan "is now in custody of coalition forces."

He is the highest-ranking person on the list of 55 to be taken into custody so far.

U.S. officials have said al-Numan is one of nine top Iraqi leaders whom the United States wants to see tried for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Al-Numan was identified as the Baath Party's regional command chairman responsible for west Baghdad. He also is a former governor of Karbala and Najaf, according to the Central Command statement.

Central Command said he was captured by coalition forces Wednesday near Baghdad.

No other details were provided.

The capture of al-Numan brought to 25 the number of Iraqis from the top-55 list who are in coalition custody, according to the Pentagon's count.

On Tuesday, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced the surrender of Uglah Abid Saqir al-Kubaysi, No. 50 on the list. Myers said Al-Kubaysi turned himself in Monday. He was a leader of President Saddam Hussein's Baath Party in the Maysan region of southeastern Iraq.

The highest-ranked Iraqi from the list of 55 in custody prior to al-Numan's capture was Muhammad Hamza al-Zubaydi, a former deputy prime minister and former member of the Baath Party regional command. He is No. 9 on the top-55 list and was taken into U.S. custody April 20.

Al-Numan was a longtime member of the regional command of the Baath party. In a 1995 meeting to elect new members, he did not receive enough votes to stay in the command, but Saddam ordered that he keep his membership for his good services to the party.

He was once minister of irrigation and agriculture.

He was prominent in the quelling of the Shiite uprising in the south in March 1991 in the immediate aftermath of the U.S.-led attack that ousted the Iraqi army from Kuwait. A Shiite, he had a reputation for cruel treatment of the rebels, accused by opposition groups of killing and torture.

Before the 1991 uprising, when he was governor of Najaf, he was accused of arresting, torturing and killing Shiite clerics during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war.

In the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, he was appointed governor of Kuwait for administrative affairs with a rank of minister, along with Saddam's half brother Sabawai, who was governor for security affairs, and Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, who was governor for military affairs.

Several days ago his relatives reportedly published an advertisement in one of the new newspapers being published in Baghdad alleging that he died of a heart attack. It said his sister reportedly held a mourning ceremony at her house in the Dawoudi district in Baghdad.

In June 2002, the anti-Saddam group known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq said that al-Numan was wounded in his arms and legs in an assassination attempt the previous month in the southern city of Amara. It asserted that al-Numan was responsible for "vicious crimes against our citizens."

(Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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