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Two More Top Level Iraqis Taken Into Custody

Two More Top Level Iraqis Taken Into Custody

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Saddam Hussein's former interior minister and a top member of his Baath party have been taken into custody, the latest captures from a list of 55 most-wanted fugitives from the ousted regime, the U.S. military said Wednesday.

Mizban Khadr Hadi, a high-ranking member of the Baath Party regional command and Mahmud Diab al-Ahmed, the former interior minister, were taken into custody Tuesday, the U.S. Central Command said.

Hadi, No. 23 on the U.S. most-wanted list, surrendered in Baghdad. Al-Ahmed, No. 29, was captured, Centcom said in a statement, which provided no further details.

The United States has 34 of the 55 most-wanted in custody, but none of the top three -- Saddam and his sons Qusai and Odai.

The most recent arrest came June 17, when Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, Saddam's top aide, surrendered after informants tipped U.S. forces to his whereabouts in Tikrit.

Just before the war began, al-Ahmed was named commander of one of four military regions for the defense of Iraq. He held a news conference just after the war began wearing a bulletproof vest and brandishing an assault rifle.

"Some of you may be wondering why I am dressed like this," he said at the time. "Well, because we in Iraq have pledged not to relinquish our guns until the day we are victorious."

The U.S. Army's V Corps reported that Hadi was arrested in early May, but that information was incorrect, said Maj. Brad Lowell, a Central Command spokesman.

American officials have offered a $25 million bounty for Saddam, and $15 million for each of his sons.

U.S. soldiers raided a building Tuesday in central Baghdad after people claimed they saw Saddam driving through the area a day earlier, to cheers from supporters. As Americans swept through the area, a crowd sang, "With our souls and our blood we sacrifice ourselves for you, Saddam."

The last verified sighting of Saddam came April 9 in the Azamiyah neighborhood of northeastern Baghdad as the capital fell to U.S. troops.

L. Paul Bremer, the top American official in Iraq, said Tuesday that the coalition would not rest until it had determined Saddam's fate and assured Iraqis that he would not return to rule. "He may be alive, but he is not coming back," he said.

On Wednesday, the U.S.-led occupational government announced it would begin recruiting members of a new Iraqi army on July 19. Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, in charge of training the new army, said the coalition hoped to have 1,000 soldiers training by August, and 12,000 by the end of the year. They hope to have 40,000 by an unspecified date in 2004.

Establishing an Iraqi army and police is a main goal of the U.S.-led provisional government to end the nearly constant attack by Saddam's supporters.

In Fallujah, a city 35 miles west of Baghdad, insurgents fired two rocket-propelled grenades at American troops Wednesday. The U.S. military said there were no injuries and no arrests.

Iraqi police Lt. Iyad Abed said one grenade exploded in the air and the second landed outside a building occupied by U.S. troops.

The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news channel reported a U.S. patrol came under fire Wednesday in Fallujah and that troops engaged in a 10-minute gun battle to the west in Ramadi. The broadcast did not say whether there casualties, and the U.S. military could not confirm the incidents.

A contingent of 104 troops from Norway, a NATO member, arrived in the Basra area Wednesday to help with the rebuilding of Iraq. The Norwegian forces, who will eventually number 150 and include engineers and mine-clearing experts, will be under British command.

An American soldier attached to the 101st Airborne Division died Monday from what the military said was a non-combat gunshot wound near Balad, 55 miles north of the capital. The soldier's name was withheld until his family could be notified.

Attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq take place nearly every day, but Bremer stood by Washington's assertion that the violence does not amount to a full-fledged guerrilla war. Bremer blamed the attacks on remnants of Saddam's Baath party, former members of pro-Saddam militias and terrorists.

The U.S.-led provisional authority announced a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone who kills a coalition soldier or Iraqi police officer.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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