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U.S. Troops Capture "Big Fish," Iraqis Say

U.S. Troops Capture "Big Fish," Iraqis Say


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KIRKUK, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. troops have captured or killed a "big fish" in a large military operation in Kirkuk, a member of Iraq's Governing Council said Tuesday. Other officials said Saddam Hussein's top former deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri was the target.

The U.S. military, however, could not confirm that it was al-Douri -- the top Iraqi fugitive after Saddam. The Americans have pointed to al-Douri as a coordinator of the insurgency against U.S. forces, and last week offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a member of the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council, told the Arabic television station Al-Jazeera that there was "a very big military operation" in Kirkuk and that those killed or captured included a "big fish."

"We are trying to verify the identity of this important figure," al-Rubaie said. "Preliminary examination has been very positive."

A senior Kurdish official in Kirkuk said, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he heard al-Douri had been "killed or captured," citing sources in his political party. The official said family members of al-Douri bodyguards were seen crying and saying that al-Douri had been captured.

The official also said the family members were in Hawija, 30 miles west of Kirkuk, and that American soldiers had arrested dozens of people there in an overnight raid.

For months, U.S. officials have pointed to him as a coordinator of incessant attacks on American forces in Iraq -- and that al-Douri could be working with the al-Qaida-linked militant group Ansar al-Islam.

In the latest such violence, a U.S. soldier from the 4th Infantry Division was killed Tuesday near Samarra, the site of weekend fighting between American troops and guerrillas, the military said.

U.S. commanders claimed that up to 54 guerrillas were killed in the clash Sunday , but this has been disputed by residents and hospital officials who say less than 10 people -- most of them civilians -- died.

After the weekend fighting, U.S. forces said Samarra attacks demonstrated a greater level of coordination in the Iraqi insurgency, although U.S. forces said they had anticipated the attacks and blunted them with superior firepower.

An Associated Press photographer who arrived at the scene Tuesday saw American soldiers using a stretcher to carry a body covered in plastic to a military truck.

Witnesses told the photographer that a roadside explosive was detonated under a U.S. military Humvee, which then collided with an Iraqi civilian vehicle. The incident occurred on the highway just south of Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad.

At a NATO meeting in Brussels, Belgium, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he had no information about the possible arrest of al-Douri, and his aides said they were pursuing the report.

No. 6 on the American military list of most-wanted Iraqis, al-Douri was vice chairman of Saddam's Revolutionary Command Council. U.S. troops last week arrested a wife and a daughter of al-Douri in an apparent attempt to pressure him into surrendering.

In Baghdad, workers on Tuesday began dismantling four giant bronze busts of Saddam Hussein that have long been a landmark in the Iraqi capital.

The workers used a construction crane to take down the busts in the Republican Palace, in yet another move aimed at eradicating the former leader's influence. The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority announced last month that it would dismantle the 13-feet-high busts. It was not clear how long the operation would last.

In addition to attacking coalition forces, rebels in recent days have killed a number of nonmilitary personnel, including two Japanese diplomats, two South Korean electrical workers and a Colombian contractor.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's chief representative in Iraq, warned that insurgents are now turning to softer targets and urged foreigners to increase security levels.

"People have to be very careful. The Spaniards and the Japanese who were killed this week were not following the strictest possible protection rules," Greenstock told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Greenstock said he was confident coalition troops would retain a grip on events and said the coalition backed the aggressive approach to tackling security problems being taken by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

During the past month, U.S. troops have pounded suspected guerrilla targets under a new "get-tough" campaign against the insurgency. Despite the crackdown, November has proven to be the deadliest for coalition troops since the war began.

The increasing death toll has raised concerns in some nations taking part in the U.S.-led coalition.

On Tuesday, Thailand's Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said government leaders will discuss the possibility of withdrawing Thailand's contingent from Iraq if the security situation continues to deteriorate.

Thailand dispatched 422 soldiers in September in a non-combat capacity to help rebuild roads, buildings and other infrastructure destroyed during the war, and to provide medical services.

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

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