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Iraqi ex-defense minister surrenders

Twin bomb blasts, gun battle reported as violence surges

KHALDIYAH, Iraq -- Saddam Hussein's fugitive defense minister, who led Iraq's army to crushing defeat six months ago, surrendered yesterday to a US commander in the northern city of Mosul after weeks of secret negotiations.

General Sultan Hashim Ahmad's surrender came at the end of a new surge in violence, in which attackers pulled off two of the most coordinated ambushes on American soldiers since the guerrilla attacks began in earnest months ago.

US soldiers from the Fourth Infantry Division fought a fierce gun battle for hours before dawn yesterday, after three of their colleagues were killed and two others injured in an ambush on Thursday night in Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, about 100 miles north of Baghdad. American soldiers then arrested about 55 Iraqi men of "military age" in three large raids, said Colonel James Hickey, the division's First Brigade commander in Tikrit.

And two huge explosions rocked Baghdad last night, as bombs detonated on opposite ends of the capital within minutes of each other. A homemade bomb exploded in a large trash bin on an east Baghdad street, causing a massive blast that was heard across the city but no injuries.

Another bomb exploded in the upscale west Baghdad area of Mansur, apparently also causing no injuries. Moments after the blasts, bright military flares rose in the black skies, in an eerie reminder of the sights and sounds that filled Baghdad during the war in March and April.

For weeks, US officials have watched with unease as the ongoing war against US soldiers has involved increasingly sophisticated and coordinated military-style tactics, rather than isolated hit-and-run attacks. In recent weeks, US military commanders have warned that the new style might signal that the Iraqis are now receiving help from more seasoned armed groups, perhaps from other countries. Officials are also concerned that some blasts might be decoys, exploded in order to test the US military responses.

The new styles of attacks have been clear since Thursday in the area north and west of Baghdad, named the Sunni Triangle for its overwhelming dominance of Sunni Muslims who held fierce loyalty to Hussein throughout his decades of rule.

In this small farming town of Khaldiyah, on the Euphrates River about 56 miles west of Baghdad, in the heart of the Triangle, attackers ambushed two American military convoys on Thursday.

Two US soldiers were wounded in a three-hour gun battle, minutes after their supply convoy was attacked by remote-controlled bombs. Nine miles west of here, a second US military convoy rode over a homemade bomb, destroying one Humvee. About 100 residents spilled into Khaldiyah's streets in celebration on Thursday afternoon, chanting their support for Hussein and holding posters of the fugitive president.

The Tikrit attack on Thursday night also involved highly coordinated maneuvers. One group of attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun bullets at American military vehicles traveling on the Tigris River's east bank. Meanwhile, another group struck two US military bases on the opposite side of the river.

"We've seen instances of coordinated attacks two times in the past out of the scores of ambushes," Hickey told the Associated Press yesterday. "This is something that is worrying us, and we are paying attention to it."

As a measure of the fierce resistance against American forces around here, even those Iraqis who serve as US allies in the town said they had no intention of trying to halt the insurgents' attacks.

"We'll fight American military patrols every day if we can," said Iraqi police officer Ahmed Juma'a Ahmed, 35, standing outside the crumbling Khaldiyah police station.

"Our situation under Saddam was very good compared to America's occupation," said Ahmed, who was hired into the police force three months ago by US military officers. Asked if the police officers would attempt to find those responsible for Thursday's attack, he shrugged his shoulders. "We have no cooperation here with the Americans."

US officials reportedly hoped that yesterday's surrender of Hussein's defense minister might defuse the violence.

In an unusual scene, even for a country filled with tumultuous events, Ahmad drove with his six sons, three brothers, and a group of tribal sheikhs to the home of General David Petraeus of the 101st Airborne Division, who commands the US forces in northern Iraq.

There the two wartime foes warmly saluted each other, and posed for photographs with Ahmad's family. US military helicopters then flew the men to the high-security detention center at Baghdad's airport, about 240 miles south of Mosul.

In a deal struck with Petraeus, Ahmad asked his name be removed from the list of 55 most wanted officials -- the so-called "deck of cards," on which the general was the eight of hearts. Those officials are effectively able to be detained indefinitely, and can be tried for war crimes. Ahmad, a diabetic, also wanted assurances of medical treatment.

Appealing to Ahmad's professional career, Petraeus had broached a surrender with Ahmad last month. In a letter, he offered the Iraqi minister "utmost respect and dignity" in detention.

"Although we find ourselves on different sides of this war, we do share common traits. As military men, we follow the orders of our superiors," Petraeus wrote. "However, the collapse of your regime necessitates your thoughtful reconsideration of support." He told Ahmad that living as a fugitive would cause more "needless loss of life."

Ahmad was persuaded, according to relatives yesterday. "We hope that America, this great power, will keep its promise," the general's son, Abdullah, told the Associated Press.

Despite the hopes of US officials, it seemed unlikely yesterday that the surrender would reduce the ongoing attacks, or the fierce hatred by some against US forces. Residents said yesterday that some of that hatred had been fueled by civilian deaths in the area in recent days.

American soldiers from the 82d Airborne Division mistakenly killed 10 Iraqi police officers on Sept. 12 in Fallujah, about 20 miles east of Khaldiyah. And an American soldier mistakenly shot dead a 14-year-old boy on Thursday in Fallujah, after opening fire on a wedding party, whose guests had fired rifles in the air in traditional celebration.

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