U.S. Nabs Iraqi Ex-General; 2 U.S. Soldiers Killed
By Nadim Ladki
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A roadside bomb killed two U.S. soldiers in Baghdad on Monday, hours after troops captured a former general in Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s once-feared security services on charges of recruiting ex-soldiers to attack Americans.
The blast that ripped through a military convoy in the late morning also killed an Iraqi interpreter and wounded two other soldiers, the U.S. military said in a statement.
The military deaths, the first in five days, brought to 202 the number of U.S. soldiers killed by hostile fire since the United States declared major combat over in Iraq (news - web sites) on May 1.
Working on what the top U.S. general said was information gleaned when Saddam was captured on December 13, troops have rounded up suspected insurgents in swoops on mainly Sunni Muslim towns north and west of Baghdad.
The Sunni areas have been the scene of the fiercest armed resistance to U.S. occupation and a bedrock of Saddam loyalists.
U.S. officers said the captured man, Major-General Mumtaz al-Taji of the former intelligence department, was detained overnight in searches in the central town of Baquba, 40 miles north of Baghdad.
He is suspected of recruiting former Iraqi soldiers and directing attacks against U.S. occupation forces in the area.
Witnesses and residents reported similar raids in a number of towns in the area. Dozens of suspected Saddam loyalists, supporters of his Baath party and Islamists are believed to have been arrested.
In a piece of good news to the beleaguered country, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council said on Monday that Russia has offered to write off 65 percent of Iraq's $8 billion debt after Baghdad signaled that Moscow was in a good position to revive prewar oil contracts.
A member of Iraqi Governing Council, Samir Sumaidy, said Russia made the proposal at a meeting between President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites) and the head of the U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council Abdul Aziz al-Hakim at the Kremlin.
"Putin has made an offer of Russia exempting Iraq from 65 percent of their debts. That is a decision made by Russia to be confirmed within the Paris Club," Sumaidy told reporters after attending a meeting at the Kremlin.
Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski told Polish troops during a surprised visit to Iraq on Monday their mission would bring peace to the country and make the world safer.
The trip was kept secret until Kwasniewski's arrival in Camp Babylon, the headquarters of the Polish-led multinational force in the south-central zone -- one of four "stabilization zones" in postwar Iraq.
"I am convinced that we will bring about stabilization in Iraq; that the Iraqi government will be formed to take over the responsibility for the country," Kwasniewski told the troops, in an address broadcast by private news television channel TVN-24.
Kwasniewski defended Poland's role in the Iraq war against the anti-war views of some opposition parties and many Poles.
"Poland will never deny its help when peace needs to be defended and when fighting terror becomes necessary," he said.
The U.S. military said eight soldiers were wounded during raids in the mainly Sunni Muslim al-Anbar province which netted 40 "enemy personnel." It did not say how the soldiers were hurt but added that one was evacuated to a combat support hospital.
A military convoy was hit with an explosive device near the town of Habbaniyah, seriously wounding one soldier. Another three soldiers had minor wounds, a military statement said.
A raid in the town of Falluja resulted in the arrest of 25 people, including three on a wanted list. Weapons and ammunitions were also seized, it said.
A U.S. soldier was wounded by small arms fire in an attack in the northern town of Mosul on Monday morning, the U.S. military said.
U.S. forces have stepped up the hunt for guerrillas in the past week, buoyed by the capture of Saddam near his hometown of Tikrit.
Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers told U.S. television on Sunday Saddam's capture had led to the arrest of "several hundred" Iraqis, including some insurgency leaders.
Western security sources say the threat of attacks has not diminished with Saddam's arrest. Intelligence indicates more attacks are planned against U.S. and Western targets over the Christmas period.
"We have not decreased our vigilance because people who are loyal to Saddam could try to make one last effort and try to attack coalition forces," said Major Josslyn Aberle, spokeswoman for the Fourth Infantry Division in Tikrit.
"There are still elements out there who are against the progress Iraq is trying to make."
Almost forgot: Go Poland!