U.S. soldiers stormed three houses near Saddam Hussein's hometown on Saturday and detained four suspects, two believed linked to the ousted leader's special security force, the U.S. military said.President Bush insisted again during his weekly radio address Saturday that "real progress" is being made in Iraq, and he said it is a result of his "clear strategy." He also made a new pitch for his $87 billion spending request for military operations and rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan, currently being considered by Congress.
Also Saturday, U.S. troops of the 4th Infantry Division arrested seven suspected insurgents and seized about 50 Kalashnikov rifles during raids near Baqouba.
During one of the Tikrit-area raids, troops questioned a man in his 50s who a U.S. commander said had worked in Saddam's Special Security Office. The agency provided security for major regime figures. The man was led away blindfolded, his hands tied behind his back. His 15-year-old son was released.
"We are satisfied we found the individuals we wanted to," said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, commander of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment of the Army's 4th Division, which is based here.
The three raids took place about six miles north of Saddam's hometown of Tikrit. Raids in the area often target those suspected of financing attacks on coalition forces.
The older man was "expected to be of great intelligence value," Russell said. "We cast a wide net; sometimes we get a dolphin, sometimes we get a shark."
In other developments:
In their Saturday radio address, Democrats said Mr. Bush must provide a more detailed accounting of how the money is being spent before lawmakers vote on the request, probalby next week. "While the battle to oust Saddam Hussein was well-planned and well-executed, the president did not plan well for winning the peace and rebuilding the nation," said Rep. Baron Hill, D-Ind. "There has been little support from the international community; our troops have been taking almost all the risks, and American taxpayers have been paying all the bills," Hill said.
In Malaysia, the world's Islamic nations opened their biggest meeting in three years Saturday with a call for the eviction of U.S. troops from Iraq and the rapid restoration of its sovereignty. Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council sought support at the meeting, but objected to the deployment of peacekeepers from Turkey.
Iraqi firefighters extinguished a blaze in northern Iraq at an oil pipeline to Turkey. Officials suspected sabotage. Continuing attacks on the pipeline are complicating the American rebuilding effort, which depends on oil revenue.
Japanese media reported Saturday that Japan will contribute between $1.5 billion and $2 billion for Iraq's reconstruction in the coming fiscal year and as much as $5 billion over the next four. One newspaper said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will also pledge, at a meeting with President Bush this week, to dispatch troops for peacekeeping efforts in Iraq as soon as possible.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he is involved in discussions on getting a revised U.S. resolution that would send more troops and money into Iraq to stabilize and rebuild the country. The Security Council, which was bitterly divided over the U.S.-led war, is now split over the timetable for transferring power to Iraqis and the U.N. role in the war-battered country. In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday that American officials "have some ideas" for accommodating concerns raised by council members and are making progress in a last-ditch effort to save the U.S. draft.
Under heavy security, U.S. forces on Saturday delivered Iraq's new currency - bank notes without the image of Saddam Hussein - to a bank in Tikrit.
During the raids outside Tikrit, a detailed search of the older man's house uncovered a leather portfolio of photographs of Saddam at various official occasions. The man said he had left Baghdad shortly before the city's fall in April and had come to his family home near Tikrit.
Earlier in the week, an Iraqi informer had pointed out the three homes in walled compounds as possible locations for explosives-making, Russell said. The suspects were identified as bomb makers.
No explosives or bomb-making tools were found in the Saturday raids, but the weapons uncovered at the three sites included several Kalashnikov rifles and a shotgun. A plastic bag stuffed with Saddam-era camouflage uniforms was also found at the older man's house.
One of the other detained suspects, who said he was a former policeman assigned to an electrical company, initially tried to hide his name. After rigorous questioning, he later said he lied about it because he was afraid. He was believed to be linked to the security office.
Another said he was formerly a police guard at a radio station while the fourth detained man was allegedly a former police officer.
During the Baqouba raid, troops of the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment raided five locations believed to be insurgent training camps and storage areas, according to the battalion operations officer, Capt. Andrew Morgato.
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