Raids Target Saddam's Hometown

Iraqi shiites march in protest to denounce the unknown attackers of Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim, one of Iraq's most influential Muslim Shiite clerics, in the holy city of Najaf on Sunday, Aug. 24, 2003. Three of al-Hakim's bodyguards were killed, and members of his family were injured when AL-Hakim's house was bombed. Al-Hakim himself came away from the blast with minimal injuries. Relatives blamed terrorists for the bomb, which was hidden in a gas cylinder. (AP Photo/Samir Mezban)
American forces captured seven men — two of them Saddam Hussein loyalists and five believed responsible for attacks on U.S. troops — during raids in the deposed leader's hometown of Tikrit, the military reported Monday.

American troops operating near Hamurrabi, 60 miles south of Baghdad, also reported finding a huge arms cache that included 400 cases of anti-aircraft shells and 200 rocket-propelled grenade rounds, the U.S. military reported.

David Roath, an investigator with the U.S. Army, said American forces would continue to maintain security around the compound, even though all the search and rescue missions were complete. "We're pretty much done with the site," he said.

The U.S. military said the captured men – and some still being sought – were suspected of organizing regional cells of the Fedayeen Saddam, the militia loyal to Saddam and believed spearheading the guerrilla war against U.S. occupation forces. The military gave no identities.

No U.S. troops were hurt in the raids in Tikrit, 120 miles north of Baghdad, according to Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division, which conducted the searches.

In other developments:

  • The International Red Cross says it's cutting back the number of people working in Baghdad. The decision comes amid warnings the group might be a target for terrorism. A Red Cross spokeswoman says staff members have been gradually pulled out since a worker died in an attack south of Baghdad.
  • The U.S. military reported the deaths of two more soldiers on Sunday raising the U.S. death toll to 275 — of those, 137 occurred in the 117 days since President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1. Britain has lost 48, 10 of them since May 1. Denmark lists one death.
  • No more American troops are needed in Iraq, despite terrorism and sabotage and continued U.S. casualties. That's the view expressed on the Sunday talk shows by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the top U.S. administrator in Baghdad.
  • The U.S. is planning to send up to 28,000 Iraqis to Hungary for training as police officers, The New York Times reports.
  • An Australian newspaper says Australia is resisting American requests for a fresh contribution of troops to Iraq as the security situation there deteriorates.
  • Prime Minister Tony Blair faces questions this week about his case against Iraq when he appears before the inquiry probing the apparent suicide of British weapons expert David Kelly.
  • Some U.S. inspectors say unmanned Iraqi drones seen so far don't appear to have been designed to deliver chemical or biological weapons, as the Bush administration contended before the war.

    At the bombed U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, officials handed over to family members the bodies of seven Iraqis killed in the Aug. 19 terror suicide attack.

    Nicolaas Rademeyer, U.N. field security officer, said the organization had been able to confirm 20 deaths with an unknown number of people missing. An Associated Press survey of hospitals found three other deaths in the attack, for a total of at least 23.

    Meanwhile, the body of U.N. Iraq envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, killed in last week's attack, arrived in Switzerland on Monday, flown in an official aircraft from his Brazilian homeland to his final resting place.

    Early Monday, two Iraqis were wounded when their vehicle attempted to avoid a U.S. checkpoint near Kirkuk, Aberle said. The soldiers manning the checkpoint opened fire and disabled the vehicle, she said. The Iraqis were being treated and were detained. Their wounds were not serious, she said.

    An American soldier told an AP reporter Monday that the Republican Bridge over the Tigris River in central Baghdad had been closed for an hour Sunday night after U.S. forces discovered a bomb. He refused to give any other details.

    In Najaf on Monday, mourners buried three guards who were killed in a bomb attack Sunday on the house of Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim, one of Iraq's most important Muslim Shiite clerics.

    The bomb, a gas cylinder wired to explode, was placed along the outside wall of the house. It blew up just after noon prayers. A number of al-Hakim's family members were wounded. He suffered cuts on his neck.

    "Obviously terrorist groups who belong to the former regime are behind this incident," said Abdel-Aziz Hakim, a relative of the religious leader.

    Abdel-Aziz Hakim also is a member of the U.S.-picked Governing Council and leader of what was the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, headquartered in Iran before the war.

    More than 1,000 mourners jammed the streets in Najaf calling for revenge against the attackers, whose identities were still not known.

    Iraqi newspapers had reported last week that Mohammed Saeed al-Hakim, who was under house arrest during the last days of Saddam's rule, had received threats against his life.

    He was among a group of three top Shiite leaders who were threatened with death by a rival Shiite cleric shortly after Saddam was toppled April 9.

    Mohammed Saeed Al-Hakim, in his late 60s, holds the highest theological title in Shiite Islam — Ayatollah al-Uzma, which means Grand or Supreme Ayatollah.

    Before the beginning of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March, most Shiite religious leaders in Najaf, including al-Hakim, were put under house arrest. Shortly after the collapse of Saddam's regime, al-Hakim's office went back to work.

    Also Monday, the chairman of an Iraqi committee appointed to look into how the country would write a new constitution said a decision on whether members of a constitutional congress would be appointed or chosen in an election would be made within six weeks.

    Fuad Ma'sum, head of the 25-member committee, told reporters his group wanted to work quickly "so that Iraq returns to independence."

    The committee was established by the U.S.-appointed Governing Council, designed as an interim government working under the U.S. occupation coalition.