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Troops kill 16 Iraqis and arrest 73

Raid on US patrol halted; at least 10 die in truck blast

BAGHDAD -- US soldiers killed at least 16 Iraqis in violence around Iraq's "Sunni Triangle" and netted 73 suspected insurgents, including a mid-level leader of the Fedayeen Saddam guerrillas, coalition officials said yesterday.

 

Among the clashes, American soldiers battled pro-Saddam Hussein protesters in two Ba'athist strongholds west of the capital, killing three, in the first direct confrontation with supporters of the former dictator since his arrest Saturday night.

The violence continued early today. A truck loaded with explosives rammed into a small bus, creating a huge fireball. Early reports of casualties varied widely. Ahmed Kadhim Ibrahim, deputy interior minister, said at least 10 people died.

The 5 a.m. blast occurred in the city's Al Bayaa district. Ibrahim said the truck was speeding toward a police station when the collision with the bus occurred. Two cars were also destroyed.

In Washington yesterday, President Bush said he believes Hussein deserves the "ultimate penalty" for his crimes, putting the United States at odds with European countries and the United Nations, which oppose the death penalty.

"Let's just see what penalty he gets, but I think he ought to receive the ultimate penalty . . . for what he has done to his people," Bush, a longtime proponent of capital punishment, said in an interview with ABC News. "This is a disgusting tyrant who deserves justice, the ultimate justice."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the CIA is taking the lead in overseeing the interrogation of Hussein. Agency director George Tenet will decide who will question Hussein and what information they will seek, Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference.

The battles with US troops began Monday evening in the two Sunni-dominated cities west of Baghdad that have been bastions of guerrilla activity.

In Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad, US soldiers and Iraqi police rushed to the city's Governance Center after a crowd of about 750 pro-Hussein demonstrators fired guns in the air and attempted to take over the building. After members of the crowd fired on the soldiers and wounded one American, a coalition official said, soldiers returned fire, killing two Iraqis and wounding two others.

Further east, in Fallujah, armed demonstrators overran the mayor's office after Iraqi police withdrew to their barracks rather than trying to control the crowd, US officials said. American soldiers "repeatedly engaged the local leaders to respond to the situation, but the Iraqi police in Fallujah did not react adequately," a coalition official said.

US soldiers killed at least one Iraqi in Fallujah, who officials said had fired a grenade.

Meanwhile in Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, US soldiers killed 11 Iraqis while repelling a "complex ambush" late Monday, coalition officials said.

Guerrillas attacked a US patrol at two points while it drove through the city, releasing a flock of pigeons as a signal to strike, the officials said. First, two men opened fire from a motorcycle in front of a school. Moments later, a second group of fighters mounted a coordinated attack, using a bomb, machine guns, and rocket propelled grenades.

No US soldiers were reported wounded in the attack.

Just hours after the ambush, US soldiers arrested 73 suspected guerrillas in a dawn sweep near Samarra that netted the alleged Fedayeen financier, identified as Qais Hattam. Major Josslyn Aberle, a spokeswoman for the Army's Fourth Infantry Division in Tikrit, said an Iraqi source tipped off American forces about the insurgents, who were captured not far where Hussein was found.

Despite the flare-ups in Sunni-dominated parts of the country, crowds in Baghdad and the southern city of Basra chanted "Death to Saddam" and celebrated his arrest. Coalition officials have expressed hope that Hussein's capture would subdue the guerrilla warfare against coalition forces. General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters yesterday during a surprise visit to Baghdad that support for anti-coalition fighters would start to wane.

"When you take this leader who at one time was a popular leader in the region and find him in a hole in the ground, that is a powerful signal that you may be on the wrong team and maybe should be thinking about some other line of work," Myers said.

But he warned that the impact on guerrilla activity would not be immediate. "We expect it will take some time before we see any possible effects from what we've accomplished," he said.

A spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress party said the organization had intelligence that Hussein had been operationally in command of guerrillas, and that his arrest would fatally disrupt "terrorist financing."

Entifadh K. Qanbar said that according to documents captured with Hussein, as well as INC intelligence, the ousted leader was in charge of disbursing money from cash depots around Iraq.

Echoing the warnings of US officials, however, Qanbar said it would take time before the impact of Hussein's arrest was fully felt. "I don't expect terrorism will abruptly stop," he said.

Also yesterday, comedian Robin Williams took to the stage at Baghdad International Airport to entertain the troops.

"I'm looking at a group of heavily armed people here," Williams joked with the soldiers, most of them wearing helmets and body armor. "I'm telling myself, `If you're not funny, it's a problem.' "

Material from wire services was included in this report. Thanassis Cambanis can be reached at tcambanis@globe.com.

Saddam Hussein Saddam Hussein after his capture by US forces. (Reuters Photo)
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