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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. troops arrested the wife and daughter of a top Saddam Hussein deputy suspected of masterminding attacks on U.S. troops, and a major pipeline linking northern Iraqi oilfields to the country's biggest refinery was ablaze Wednesday.
Hours after large explosions shook the center of Baghdad near U.S. headquarters, the visiting British foreign secretary said Iraq will be a safer place once the U.S.- and British-led coalition hands over power to an Iraqi government.
Troops of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division in Samarra, 70 miles north of Baghdad, arrested the wife and daughter of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a top Saddam associate, division spokesman Lt. Col. William MacDonald said Wednesday.
Under Saddam, al-Douri was vice chairman of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council, and shortly before the war began March 20, Saddam placed him in charge of defenses in northern Iraq.
U.S. officials have said they believe al-Douri has planned some of the attacks against U.S. forces, and last week offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture. Al-Douri is No. 6 on the list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis.
MacDonald said a man he identified as the son of a physician was also taken into custody in the raid Tuesday. He had no further information about the man.
In London, the former chief of Iraq's interim administration, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, said in an interview broadcast Wednesday on British Broadcasting Corp. radio that the U.S.-led coalition made mistakes after it took control of Baghdad.
Garner, who was replaced by L. Paul Bremer after less than a month in the job, said he could have done better at communicating with the Iraqi people. He also said the coalition should have moved more quickly to establish a government in Iraq and put more troops in Baghdad, including more infantry.
"If we did it over again, we probably would have put more dismounted infantrymen in Baghdad and maybe more troops there," Garner said, when asked what the biggest mistakes of the occupation had been.
Witnesses near the village of Sharqat, 170 miles north of Baghdad, said sheets of flame and thick black smoke were shooting from the damaged pipeline, only 30 miles from Iraq's largest oil refinery.
There was no immediate explanation for the cause of the blaze, but guerrillas have repeatedly attacked pipelines in the general area. The attacks have complicated efforts to revive Iraq's giant petroleum industry, the key to its economic recovery.
Iraq has the second-largest proven petroleum reserves in OPEC. But many companies are holding back until they see an improvement in security against attacks by militants opposed to American troops and the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, on a two-day visit to Iraq, said a political transition to Iraqi rule will improve the security situation. More than five dozen U.S. troops have been killed by hostile fire in November, more than any other month since the official end of major combat in Iraq on May 1.
"I'm absolutely sure that a more rapid political process will assist the security situation," Straw said at a news conference.
"The more that we can give all Iraqis a stake in their future and a stable political architecture in which to work, the more I believe more Iraqis will become committed to that future and fewer will think that terror and quiescence in terror is the way forward."
Straw said he met with members of the coalition-appointed Iraqi Governing Council to discuss the political process, in which the council is to hand over power to a new, transitional government by June 30.
"Iraq is a better place and will become a far better place as a result of that transition," he said. "Life for a very large number of people in Iraq is considerably better ... and will be infinitely better when we can get on top of the security situation."
Three large explosions shook downtown Baghdad on Tuesday evening, triggering a warning siren in the "Green Zone" housing the U.S. headquarters. Capt. David Gercken, a spokesman for the U.S. 1st Armored Division, said rockets hit a bus station, a propane station and an apartment building, wounding two Iraqis, near -- but not in -- the "Green Zone."
U.S. Col. William Darley, said Tuesday that attacks against U.S. forces peaked at more than 40 per day about two weeks ago and have since dropped to about 30 per day -- about the same as in October and well over the number in August and September.
Since operations began in Iraq, 297 U.S. service members have died in hostile action, including 183 since May 1 when President Bush declared an end to major fighting.
Straw said the obstacles in Iraq shouldn't come as a surprise.
"Military action is an uncertain business," he said. "What we knew that we faced for certain was a tyrant in Saddam Hussein and a highly organized network of terror and repression, and we were never under any illusions that it would be possible to remove this in one go."
The U.S. command has in recent weeks pursued insurgents more aggressively in an attempt to stop them before they strike.
In one such operation, troops from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment encircled three towns along the Syrian border in a search for weapons and fighters, according to a U.S. News and World Report correspondent who returned from the area Tuesday.
The troops established a cordon Thursday around the towns of Husaybah, Karabilah and Sadah, total population 120,000, and haven't let anyone in or out, the reporter said, adding that troops were conducting sweeps through the encircled territory.
The reporter, Bay Fang, said soldiers have detained more than 300 people and discovered several weapons caches. One held about 800 World War II-era torpedoes.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)