Dash To Freedom

Tanker driver Thomas Hamill, an American civilian from Mississippi, seen at an early morning drivers' meeting, at Camp Anaconda, in Iraq is seen in this March 24, 2004 file photo. Civilian contractor Thomas Hamill's daring escape Sunday, May 2, 2004 after three weeks as a hostage in Iraq was ``the best wake-up call'' for his wife, and the mayor of this small town promised ``a parade that will not end'' when he returns home. (Photographer: Andrew Innerarity)
AP/Houston Chronicle
Thomas Hamill, a truck driver from Mississippi who escaped from his Iraqi kidnappers after three weeks in captivity, arrived in Germany on Monday for a reunion with his wife.

Hamill pried open a door in the house where he was being held north of Baghdad when he heard a U.S. patrol passing by Sunday, then led the troops to the house where two Iraqis were captured.

Also Monday, militiamen barraged U.S. forces with mortars in the holy city of Najaf in one of the more intense attacks on American troops, who have been holding back their full firepower to avoid enflaming the anger of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority.

The shelling began overnight, when some 20 mortars hit in and around the former Spanish base that U.S. troops moved into a week ago. There were no casualties. Heavy mortar fire resumed at midday Monday.

Insurgents opened fire Monday in the Iraqi capital, killing one American soldier and wounding two others, the U.S. military said.

Violence on Sunday killed nine U.S. soldiers across the country. In the heaviest attack, five Navy sailors and one Army soldier were killed in a mortar barrage against a base near Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

In other developments:

  • The U.S. military will likely bring in a new commander for the new Iraqi brigade in Fallujah, an official said, amid apparent uncertainty over the identities of the Saddam Hussein-era generals to whom the United States has handed over control of the guerrilla stronghold.
  • The Australian government is sending 53 extra troops to Iraq to help train the nation's fledgling new army.
  • More than two dozen Iraqi judges will travel to The Hague, Netherlands this week for a legal conference with U.S. Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy and other jurists.
  • Seven U.S. soldiers have been reprimanded in connection with the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners carried out by guards at Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghraib prison, a senior military official said on Monday.

    On the orders of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, six of the soldiers — all officers and noncommissioned officers — have received the most severe level of administrative reprimand in the U.S. military, the official said on condition of anonymity.

    A seventh officer was given a more lenient admonishment.

    Another six U.S. military police are facing criminal charges.

    An internal U.S. Army report found that Iraqi detainees were subjected to "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses," according to The New Yorker magazine.

    The Los Angeles Times reports that the Army found intelligence officers had told the prison guards to harass the prisoners to make them easier to interrogate — apparently contradicting U.S. commanders' contention that the abuse was confined to low-level troops.

    Meanwhile, in Britain, military officers claim that a series of photos in the Daily Mirror tabloid purporting to show British troops abusing Iraqi prisoners are fakes. But the newspaper insists the pictures of hooded men being beaten and urinated upon are authentic.

    The Fallujah Brigade, made up of former soldiers from Saddam's army, took up further positions in the cordon around Fallujah, replacing Marines who were pulling back to form an outer cordon. The Iraqi brigade now controls a ring around the southern half of Fallujah and is due to begin patrols inside soon.

    Maj. Gen. Mohammed Latif, a former military intelligence officer, is likely to take command of the brigade, a senior U.S. military official said. He would replace Maj. Gen. Jassim Mohammed Saleh, who will likely take a subordinate command in the brigade, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    Saleh, a former member of Saddam's Republican Guard, moved into Fallujah on Friday at the head of the new brigade.

    U.S. officials have acknowledged they did not vet the leaders and members of the new brigade to see how close their ties were to Saddam's regime — a sign of the military's eagerness to find an "Iraqi solution" to a monthlong siege that had raised an international outcry and strained ties with U.S.-allied Iraqi leaders.

    The U.S. official, speaking Monday, said the decision to make Latif in charge emerged as it became clearer that he was more influential.

    U.S. officials have shown confusion over the identities of the generals in the Fallujah force. One U.S. officer said Saleh had been involved in an assassination plot against Saddam and that three of his children had been executed — apparently mistaking him for Mohammed al-Shehwani, a former Air Force officer who in April was named as head of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service and whose three sons were killed by Saddam.

    U.S. officials say the Fallujah Brigade will crack down on hard-core guerrillas in the city — though the force itself will likely include some of the gunmen who last month were involved in fighting against the Marines.

    Meanwhile, Hamill arrived in Germany, where he will have a checkup at a U.S. military hospital and see his wife, Kellie.

    Hamill, a 43-year-old truck driver from Macon, Mississippi working for the Halliburton Corp. subsidiary KBR, was abducted by gunmen on April 9 after his convoy was attacked outside Baghdad. His fate had been unknown since he appeared in a videotape released the next day by his captors, who threatened to kill him within 12 hours unless the siege of Fallujah was lifted.

    On Sunday, Hamill reappeared in the town of Balad, 40 miles north of Baghdad, when he ran up to a patrol from the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, part of the New York National Guard, and identified himself. He then lead the soldiers to the house from which he had just escaped, and two Iraqis with an automatic weapon were arrested.

    Hamill had an infected gunshot wound in his left arm.

    Hamill's abduction came at the height of the wave of kidnappings of foreigners sparked by the intense violence that began in early April. An American soldier, Pfc. Keith M. Maupin, remains in the hands of kidnappers, as do three other Italian security guards.