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U.S. Steps Up Fight Against Insurgents

U.S. Steps Up Fight Against Insurgents

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TIKRIT, Iraq (AP) -- In a show of force backed by tanks and mortars, U.S. forces assaulted dozens of suspected guerrilla positions in Saddam Hussein's hometown before dawn Monday, killing six alleged insurgents and capturing others, officials said.

U.S. forces fired a satellite-guided missile carrying a 500-pound warhead at a suspected insurgent sanctuary 10 miles south of Tikrit -- the second use in as many days of the powerful weapon amid a U.S. drive to intimidate the resistance.

In Baghdad, troops mounted their biggest-ever hunt for weapons and explosives in a middle-class Baghdad area, angering residents who said their small arms were needed to protect themselves in the crime-plagued capital.

The military also announced that soldiers in the city of Ramadi west of Baghdad arrested an organizer of the Fedayeen guerrillas responsible for bomb attacks and ambushes on U.S. forces. The suspect, Kazim Mohammed Faris, was a "high value target," a military statement said.

Faced with a deteriorating security situation, the military in past days has reacted with massive show of force in central and northern Iraq. At the same time, the U.S.-led coalition has bowed to demands from Iraqi politicians and agreed to speed the transfer of power.

The new formula, announced Saturday by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, calls for a provisional, sovereign government to be established by June. However, France's foreign minister said in an interview published Monday in the French daily Le Croix that the plan still moves too slowly. Dominique de Villepin urged the Americans to have a provisional government in place by the end of 2003.

In Tikrit, U.S. forces carried out more than 38 attacks from Sunday night to early Monday, destroying 15 suspected safehouses, three training camps and 14 mortar firing points, said Lt. Col. William MacDonald, a spokesman of the 4th Infantry Division.

Six suspected Saddam loyalists were killed and 21 arrested, he said.

"Clearly, we're sending the message that we do have the ability to run operations across a wide area," said MacDonald. "We have overwhelming combat power that we will utilize in order to go after groups and individuals who have been conducting anti-coalition activities."

In Samara, three Iraqis who fired on American soldiers were killed in an ensuing clash Sunday night. In Muqdadiyah, two Iraqis fired a rocket-propelled grenade on U.S. soldiers on combat patrol aboard a Bradley fighting vehicle. The soldiers returned fire and killed the two, Macdonald said.

While troops have been targeting suspected insurgent targets, U.S. forces have also carried out dozens of raids aimed at apprehending suspects and seizing weapons and bomb-making materials.

One such "cordon-and-search" raid early Monday in Baghdad's middle-class Azamiyah district netted 21 suspects along with 30 Kalashnikov AK-47 automatic rifles, about a dozen shotguns and 10 handguns. Most suspects had violated a coalition rule allowing only one weapon -- a single AK-47 -- per house.

Some 2,000 troops of the 1st Armored Division -- backed by tanks, armored vehicles and low-flying helicopters took part in the nighttime raid, sealing off a 20-block area and searching every single building inside it.

Residents of the neighborhood next to the Tigris River were furious over the sweep. They said those arrested included men who had revolvers or bird guns that could not have presented a serious threat to the security of the occupying forces.

"Of course everybody has weapons," said Samir al-Hadith, an engineer who works in Saudi Arabia and had returned to Baghdad to check on his home. "There are so many thieves nowadays. we have to defend our families."

"Under Saddam Hussein there was much more security and we could own guns," he said.

Zuheir Ali, 26, was detained after troops found a snub-nose .38 Smith & Wesson revolver in his house along with an AK-47. They left the automatic rifle but confiscated the handgun.

"I don't understand this, we're not criminals, we only want to defend our homes from looters," Ali said.

Journalists accompanying the troops during the bitterly cold night were offered hot tea by several of the residents.

"But no tea for the soldiers," said Lamya Shaheen Ahmed who stood on the sidewalk with her mother and two sisters after troops had gone through their house.

In Tikrit, hundreds of U.S. troops in tanks and assault vehicles marched through the crowded downtown area Monday in a show of force intended to deliver a stern warning.

"They need to understand that it's more than just Humvees that will be used against the resistance and we will crush the resistance," said Lt. Col. Steven Russell, a battalion commander in the 4th Infantry Division.

Tikrit, about 120 miles north of Baghdad, is part of a region north and west of Baghdad dominated by Sunni Muslims and regarded as a hotbed of anti-American sentiment.

Meanwhile, a tape purportedly made by Saddam Hussein urged the rebels to escalate attacks against the occupation and "agents brought by foreign armies" -- an apparent reference to Iraqis supporting the coalition.

The CIA said it would review the tape, aired on Al-Arabiya television, for its authenticity.

"The evil ones now find themselves in crisis and this is God's will for them," the speaker on the tape said.

The top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer dismissed the message.

"This is a voice from the wilderness here. This is a man who's followed by a small band of murderers, and they have no vision for the future of Iraq," Bremer told NBC's "Today" Monday. Saddam "is around and we need to capture him or kill him, but he has no future here."

The last purported tape from Saddam was aired on Arab television Sept. 17. The CIA has been unable to authenticate that recording, saying the audio quality is too poor.

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

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