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Hussein said to yield useful information

BAGHDAD -- The United States has used information gained during interrogations of Saddam Hussein to help round up insurgents and identify false leads, a senior military official said yesterday.

American military officials believe that about 14 cells of Hussein loyalists are operating in Iraq's capital, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. There are about 250 to 300 "hard-core" insurgents in those cells, the official said.

Documents found with the ousted Iraqi president and information gleaned during interrogations have helped American troops disrupt those cells and track their finances, the official said. He would not say what information Hussein might have given his American interrogators.

US troops captured Hussein on Dec. 13. Officials have said previously that the documents were helpful, but the statement yesterday was the first indication that Hussein's interrogations are bearing fruit.

On the military front, commanders of the US Army's First Armored Division said they plan to cut the number of bases in Baghdad from 26 to eight by the time the First Cavalry Division takes over responsibility for the city in mid-April.

The pullback is part of a strategy to allow Iraq's fledgling police and civil defense forces to take over responsibility for security in Baghdad, said Brigadier General Martin Dempsey, the First Armored Division's commander.

"There's a point of diminishing consent for what we're doing," said Dempsey's second-in-command, Brigadier General Mark Hertling. "Iraqis like the security; they appreciate the partnership. But I don't think many of them want us there all the time. They want their security forces."

About 8,000 Iraqi police now work in Baghdad, along with about 6,000 members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. US Army officials calculate that Baghdad needs about 19,000 police.

Foreign fighters continue to come into Iraq, most of them from Syria, military officials said. Two Yemenis and an Egyptian died in a shootout with American troops in Baghdad last week, for example.

US officials in Baghdad said Al Qaeda and an affiliate, the radical Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam, are active in Iraq. But the officials would not say what evidence they have to prove that.

Dempsey said he did not expect more attacks on Americans during the division changes in Baghdad, which begin this week and are to end April 15. The First Cavalry already has sent some intelligence specialists and other units to Baghdad, and troops from the two divisions will spend at least two weeks working together before the First Armored Division troops leave, he said. "I don't think the enemy we're fighting is capable of the kind of surge you're thinking about," Dempsey told reporters at the headquarters of the US-led civilian administration in Iraq. "I don't think they're as organized as they were a month ago. In fact, I know they're not."

The troop rotations in Baghdad are part of a huge shift in American forces in Iraq as about 130,000 troops who have been in Iraq for a year are replaced by about 110,000 fresh troops.

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