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SAMARRA, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. forces moved a step closer to the most wanted man in Saddam Hussein's regime Wednesday, detaining his four nephews in a pre-dawn raid and capturing another top fugitive thought to be a paymaster in the anti-U.S. insurgency.
In the Sunni Triangle region that has been the heart of the guerrilla war, a car bomb exploded in front of a police station in the town of Baqouba, killing the driver and two other Iraqis and wounding 31, including civilians and police. Outside Samarra, U.S. troops killed eight Iraqis after their patrol came under fire.
The detention of the nephews of former Iraqi Vice President Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri came in a raid Wednesday in Samarra, prompted by a tip. Al-Douri has a $10 million bounty on his head and is suspected to have been orchestrating insurgent attacks.
About 40 soldiers from the 720th Military Police Battalion based in Fort Hood, Texas, swept into two houses -- capturing one of the targeted nephews and his two brothers in one house, then the second targeted nephew in a nearby home.
The two "main targets" are believed to be in close touch with al-Douri and to have helped him hide by finding safehouses, Lt. Col. David J. Poirier of Chicago told an Associated Press reporter who observed the raid.
"They have information they can provide to us ... that would be extremely important," Poirier said. "One of these days his (al-Douri's) head will rise up above the water, and we will be able to capture him as well."
All four were taken to a detention facility in Tikrit at the 4th Infantry Division based inside one of Saddam's palaces. Tikrit is Saddam's hometown, 120 miles north of Baghdad.
In Ramadi, west of Baghdad, U.S. troops captured Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, who was No. 54 on the list of 55 most-wanted figures, the military said Wednesday.
Al-Muhammad was arrested Sunday, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said. U.S. officials have described al-Muhammad, a former regional party leader in Karbala, as the paymaster for insurgent forces in Anbar, Iraq's largest province which includes such hotspots as Fallujah and Ramadi.
American officers in Anbar, which borders Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, said al-Muhammad was the most highly sought-after fugitive in the province.
With al-Muhammad's arrest, 12 fugitives remain from the list of 55 most-wanted figures from Saddam's ousted regime. Al-Douri, a former Revolutionary Command Council vice chairman, is the highest-ranking figure still at large. He is No. 6 on the U.S. list, but the top five have either been captured or killed.
Al-Douri's wife and daughter were arrested on Nov. 26 and remain in custody.
Elsewhere, an American soldier from the 101st Airborne Division died late Tuesday in a non-hostile incident in northern Iraq, the U.S. military said Wednesday. That raised the U.S. death toll to 496 since the conflict began in March.
U.S. troops have conducted scores of raids in central Iraq since the fall of Saddam's three-decade regime, leading to the arrests of Saddam, other former high-ranking regime officials and anti-coalition insurgents.
Still, sporadic attacks by the insurgents have continued, such as Wednesday's car bombing in Baqouba, 40 miles north of the capital Baghdad.
Police Col. Salam Omar said the driver tried to enter the walled compound of the one-story station about 8:20 a.m. but the guards opened fire and the car exploded, damaging a wall and shattering windows at the station and shops across the street.
In Baghdad, Iraq's deputy interior minister, Gen. Ahmed Kadhim, said two people in addition to the driver were killed and 31 were injured, including 19 civilians. The rest were police and civil defense corps members, he added.
U.S. officials initially reported five dead but later revised that downward to confirm with the Iraqi figure.
Iraqi police and government institutions have been the frequent target of attacks by insurgents battling the U.S.-led occupation force and its allies.
Last Friday, a bomb near a Shiite Muslim mosque in Baqouba killed five worshippers and wounded dozens. A second bomb, rigged inside a car, was found and defused before it could explode at another Shiite mosque. In November, suicide bombers struck police stations in Baqouba and the nearby town of Khan Bani Saad.
Tuesday's reported ambush on the U.S. soldiers outside Samarra occurred while they were on a vehicle patrol. Eight cars driving past the convoy opened fire on the soldiers, who returned fire, killing eight Iraqis, said spokeswoman Maj. Josslyn Aberle in Tikrit.
She said one attacker was wounded and two vehicles were destroyed. The remaining six cars were seized and their 26 occupants arrested, she said.
In other violence in the area, unidentified attackers in a car fired at a police checkpoint in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, killing a policeman and a civilian bystander, said police major Adel Abdul-Kareem.
Gunmen also ambushed a convoy operated by U.S. civilian contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root on Wednesday, killing two drivers and wounding several others, the U.S. military said. It did not give the nationalities of the victims.
Meanwhile, in the northern city of Kirkuk, unidentified assailants hurled two hand grenades inside a meeting of Arab tribal leaders and American military administrators. There were no injuries in the blast, but U.S. troops fired at the assailants, wounding three people, police Maj. Turhan Abdel Rahman Youssef said.
Arabs, who are a minority in Kurd-majority Kirkuk, have often been attacked in ethnic clashes. Kurds were dominated and suppressed for decades under Saddam's regime.
Also in Kirkuk, a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation arrested 26 people, members of the former regime on Tuesday, said Iraqi police Col. Sarhad Qader.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)