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Iraqi Guard commander arrested by US military

Page 2 of 2 -- US commanders want to use force to retake cities that have fallen under insurgent control, and then turn over security to Iraqi Army units. They have followed such an approach in Najaf, and intend to do so in the northern city of Tal Afar, which is still emerging from a brutal battle between the US Army and anti-American guerrillas.

However, it will be difficult or impossible to use Iraqi units for counterinsurgency operations if insurgents have infiltrated their leadership ranks.

Lahibi fits the profile of the kind of military officer interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi vowed to recruit when he took his position in June. Allawi said his government would court former Ba'athists and former military officers who had no criminal record and were not regime loyalists, and who could bring much-needed expertise and stability to Iraq's reconstructed security forces, which collapsed in the face of April's nationwide uprising.

Under Saddam Hussein, Lahibi commanded infantry units during the Iran-Iraq war and taught at the Military College in Baghdad. During the US-led invasion last year, he commanded troops defending the northern city of Mosul. He was one of five candidates to lead the Iraqi National Guard in Diyala province.

Military officials also acknowledged yesterday that insurgents were fanning across the country from bases in Fallujah and Baghdad.

In a series of morning raids in the center of the capital, where insurgents have pummeled Iraqi police and American soldiers with attacks over the last two weeks, US soldiers and Iraqi National Guard troops arrested 17 suspected insurgents, the military said. US soldiers also searched 150 homes in southern Baghdad, discovering another suspected insurgent.

Nationwide, military officials said, attacks are down to 50 a day, from a high of 90 around Sept. 12, when the insurgents launched their latest offensive.

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said yesterday that he believed Iraq could hold elections on time, in January, but needed help from the international community to deal with provinces currently controlled by insurgents.

The airstrikes on Fallujah have provoked a fierce debate over casualties. US officials said yesterday that they have solid intelligence, and are bombing only sites they know are being used by terrorists or insurgents.

The US military said its Saturday night strike targeted a building where insurgents were meeting. According to the military, the strikes are creating divisions within the Zarqawi network, prompting some members to be executed.

"I think there's a trust issue right now," DeFreitas said. "There's a concern" among insurgents "that some of the members inside the organizations have provided information and that's what led to the strikes."

Hospital officials in Fallujah told the Associated Press that Saturday's bombings killed 16 people and wounded 37, including children.

The Washington Post cited witnesses and hospital sources as saying yesterday that among those killed was a key member of the terrorist network led by Zarqawi. According to the Post, witnesses said the body of Abu Ahmed al-Tabouki, a Saudi who US forces believe was Zarqawi's right-hand man in Fallujah, was found near a bombed house owned by Omar Hadeed, an Iraqi also linked by US authorities to Zarqawi's organization, Monotheism and Jihad.

Military officials would not address televised images of civilians, including children, apparently killed in the airstrikes, but insisted yesterday that the regular bombings in Fallujah had avoided "collateral damage."

"We absolutely do not target innocent civilians," Lessel said. "Civilians do get killed. They get killed by the terrorists."

Thanassis Cambanis can be reached at tcambanis@globe.com. 

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