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CAMP BOOM, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. forces kicked off a massive sweep Sunday, raiding more than 20 towns across a wide swath of Iraq and netting at least 60 suspects in a show of air and infantry power designed to crush resistance and stem a wave of deadly attacks on American troops.
The raids by the 4th Infantry Division and Task Force Ironhorse troops came as the U.S. civilian administrator of Iraq said American forces must kill or capture Saddam Hussein so he can no longer be a rallying point for anti-coalition attacks.
The latest operation, dubbed "Sidewinder," began at 2 a.m. local time across an area of central Iraq stretching from the Iranian border to the areas north of Baghdad. It's expected to last for several days, according to military officials in Camp Boom, near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.
The region has become "the nexus of paramilitary activity in central Iraq," the military said in a statement.
There were no reports of U.S. casualties, the military said, nor was there any indication that the operation had netted any of Iraq's most wanted fugitives.
"We go in with such overwhelming combat power that they won't even think about shooting us," Lt. Col. Mark Young said before the start of the operation.
The raids targeted loyalists from Saddam's former Baath Party, "terrorists suspected of perpetrating attacks against U.S. forces and former Iraqi military leaders," the military said.
At least 63 American soldiers have died in Iraq since major combat was declared over May 1, close to one-third of them killed in attacks, raising the total U.S. death toll to more than 200 since the March 20 start of the war. Some 42 British forces have died.
The American forces arrested a man in Khalis, 45 miles north of Baghdad, suspected of recruiting others to launch attacks on U.S. troops. In Dojima, a town where Sunni Muslim residents recently polished the still-standing portrait of Saddam, police raided the homes of alleged Saddam loyalists they suspected of hiding caches of arms, including rocket-propelled grenades -- the weapon of choice in many recent ambushes.
The military also announced the arrest Saturday of 15 suspects in Mosul, in northern Iraq, confiscating Baath party documents and Republican Guard uniforms, as well as weapons.
Insurgents have stepped up their attacks against U.S. troops in recent days, carrying out ambushes against military convoys, shooting soldiers, and lobbing grenades.
U.S. officials in Washington have said repeatedly that no centralized Iraqi resistance to American rule remains. Commanders on the ground suggest some organization.
Young called the resistance in areas northeast of Baghdad "an organized effort." Capt. John Wrann, also involved in Sidewinder, said: "It's got to be a coordinated thing."
The top U.S. official in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, stressed the need to capture Saddam, although there's no evidence the former Iraqi leader himself is behind the violence.
"I think it is important that we either catch him or kill him," Bremer told the British Broadcasting Corp. "There is no doubt that the fact that we have not been able to show his fate allows the remnants on the Baath regime to go around the bazaars and villages and say Saddam will come back so do not cooperate with the coalition."
Bremer said progress was being made in restoring basic services to the country such as health care, water and power supplies. Speaking from Iraq, he said Baghdad now had 18 to 20 hours of electricity a day and that law and order would soon be restored.
"Am I satisfied? No," said Bremer, "We will do our best and we will succeed. I do not know when that will be."
Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi said Sunday he believes that Saddam had issued a written plan to foment postwar chaos in case of his defeat, including attacks on U.S. forces and the sabotaging of oil pipelines, electricity and water.
"I think that Saddam had this plan done, and it's being implemented by the remnants of his regime," Chalabi said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Ordinary Iraqis are growing more and more frustrated with the lack of water and electricity, especially with temperatures soaring as high as 117 degrees Fahrenheit. They are also clamoring for improved security in the capital, where nightly blackouts have helped turn the streets over to roaming bandits.
"It is true America is strong but it will not be good for America if they don't get this situation under control," said Haleem Shaqir, a 65-year-old merchant. "We need stability. We need security."
The shaky relationship between occupier and occupied came to the fore in a confrontation Sunday morning in Fallujah, a restive town west of Baghdad that's seen a number of attacks on U.S. troops since the Americans shot and killed 20 protesters during demonstration in April.
A shouting match broke out when an Iraqi civilian, Jamal Shalal Habib al-Mahemdi, accused a U.S. soldier of stealing $600 from his car.
The soldier tried to wave the man on, but, at the behest of bystanders, his superior officer, Sgt. James A. Phillips, searched his pockets and found the money. Phillips then returned the bills to al-Mahemdi, who waved them above his head and cursed the soldier.
It was not clear if the soldier, whose name was not immediately available, would be disciplined. Maj. Sean Gibson, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said he had not heard of the incident but was sure it would be investigated.
The incident was witnessed by an Associated Press photographer.
Meanwhile, two American troops were injured and an Iraqi civilian was killed when an explosive device went off alongside a U.S. military convoy on a road leading to Baghdad International Airport, the military said.
In other violence, insurgents on Sunday ambushed a U.S. patrol west of Baghdad using rocket propelled grenades.
One of the grenades struck a Bradley fighting vehicle patrolling near Khaldiyah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, but didn't cause any significant damage or injuries. U.S. troops returned fire with 25 mm cannon, but apparently failed to inflict any casualties on the attackers, who ran away.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)