U.S. Marines broke up violent clashes between club-wielding members of Saddam Hussein's clan and rivals from the countryside near Tikrit who had come to the city for food, a U.S. military officer said Thursday.

The fighting broke out Wednesday after villagers went to Tikrit warehouses where Iraqi officials had distributed food rations before the war that ousted President Saddam Hussein, said Lt. Col. Freddie Blish, the operations officer for Marine Wing Support Group 37.

Armed with clubs, eight of Saddam's clansmen attacked three men in a white pickup truck who were loading rice, sugar, and milk into it, Blish said. In a second incident, 10 people from Saddam's clan attacked two people in a small car.

Marines stopped the attacks in both cases, said Blish. The Saddam clansmen, he said, claimed to be police, but the Marines said there were no authorized joint U.S.-Iraqi police patrols in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown 90 miles north of Baghdad.

"A lot of people from outlying towns and villages used to come here for food. That has not happened over the last month, so they are hungry," Blish said. "Townspeople from Tikrit, most of them from Saddam Hussein's clan, are trying to prevent them."

"They are being extremely violent in their methods," he said. "They are literally trying to beat people to death."

The Saddam family clan is dominant in Tikrit, home to five other lesser clans.