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U.S. Denies Capture of Top Saddam Deputy

U.S. Denies Capture of Top Saddam Deputy

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KIRKUK, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. troops conducted a big raid near the northern city of Kirkuk on Tuesday, but a military spokesman denied that a top former deputy of Saddam Hussein was captured during the operation.

A member of Iraq's Governing Council said Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri -- the top Iraqi fugitive after Saddam -- was the target of the raid.

"We get our information from the 173rd (Airborne Brigade), and the 173rd is saying they don't have him," said Sgt. Robert Cargie, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division.

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.

The U.S. raid took place in Hawija, 30 miles west of Kirkuk, and witnesses said American soldiers had arrested dozens of people.

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

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

A senior Kurdish official in Kirkuk said, speaking on condition of anonymity, said earlier Tuesday that he heard al-Douri had been "killed or captured," citing sources in his political party.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in Belgium and White House spokesman Scott McClellan both said they could not confirm the reports on al-Douri. Later, Cargie, in Iraq, denied al-Douri had been netted.

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

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

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.

In Tuesday's attack outside Samarra, 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.

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-foot- 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.

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

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