TIKRIT, Iraq – American troops nabbed one of Saddam Hussein's closest bodyguards and at least two other suspected associates in pre-dawn raids in Tikrit Tuesday, the U.S. military said.
Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Musslit had retired from his job as one of the former dictator's most trusted aides, but was apparently called back into service shortly before Operation Iraqi Freedom began.
"We got our prime target," said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, commander of the 4th Infantry Division's 22nd Infantry Regiment. "This man was a close associate of Saddam Hussein."
Earlier Tuesday in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, troops found enough anti-tank mines and gunpowder for a month of attacks on American forces.
The military reported a U.S. soldier killed in an attack in Baghdad Monday, while guerrillas blew up a bridge in an attempt to disrupt the U.S. occupation.
In Tuesday's raid, soldiers shot the locks off a door before storming a house at 4 a.m. local time to capture al-Musslit. He was escorted from the house, where he had been staying with his family, minutes later, blood seeping through his hat.
The stocky al-Musslit struggled to break free as soldiers arrested him, and they had to wrestle him to the ground and drag him down the stairs, Russell said.
"Were we surprised? He's a bodyguard. That's why we went in with our steely knives and oily guns," Russell said. "If everything else had failed and we just got that one guy, we would be happy."
As "one of Saddam's lifelong bodyguards," al-Musslit was believed to have detailed knowledge of the former president's hiding places, Russell said. He said documents found in the house and information obtained from the men would be useful in the hunt for Saddam.
"Every guy we get tightens the noose," Russell said. "Every photo and every document connects the dots."
Captured in other houses nearby were Daher Ziana, head of security in Tikrit, and Rafa Idham Ibrahim al-Hassan, a leader of the Saddam Fedayeen militia, (search) believed to be among the groups mounting guerrilla attacks on U.S. troops.
Al-Musslit had close ties to Watban Ibrahim Hasan (search), Saddam's half brother and presidential adviser, Russell said.
Watban had been number 37 on the U.S. most wanted Iraqis list and was arrested on April 13 in Mosul on his way to Syria.
Soldiers cut white sheets from the house Ziana was taken from into strips to make blindfolds for him and three others captured with him. All four sat under guard in the front yard.
Six women stood by wailing as soldiers brought out photographs and documents for examination. One photo showed one of the detained men in a beret and military uniform with three stars on his epaulets.
A large portrait of Saddam lay alongside a picture of Ziana in uniform. One album featured a photo of women posing with Kalashnikov rifles.
Among the documents was something called a "Saddam Privilege Card," Russell said.
"He's with number 1 and number 4 in these photographs," Russell said, referring to the "55 Most Wanted Cards" ranking of Saddam and his former security chief, Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti. Mahmud was captured on June 17 and is the highest ranking former regime member in U.S. custody.
Al-Mussilt, Ziana, al-Hassan and the others captured with them were taken to an Army detention facility in Tikrit for interrogation.
The hunt for al-Musslit began with a raid on a farm belonging to Saddam's cousin Barzan Abd al-Ghafur Sulayman Majid al-Tikriti — 11th on the "Most Wanted" list — where several photos of al-Musslit at Saddam's side were found, Russell said.
Bradley fighting vehicles were attacked late last week around the corner from the house where al-Musslit was staying.
Russell and his driver, Spc. Cody Hoefer, were drawn into a shootout with al-Musslit's nephew and three other men, Russell said. The four Iraqis were killed in the fight.
Soldiers then stepped up surveillance on the area and gathered the information that led to the raids.
In Baghdad Monday, a soldier was killed when insurgents dropped a grenade on his convoy. Three soldiers were wounded.
U.S. soldiers also dug up the freshly buried weapons — 40 anti-tank mines, dozens of mortar rounds and hundreds of pounds of gunpowder — outside an abandoned building that once belonged to Saddam's Fedayeen militia in Tikrit.
Maj. Bryan Luke, 37, of Mobile, Ala., said the weaponry was enough for a month of guerrilla attacks and the discovery "saved a few lives out there."
"Forty mines could have caused a lot of problems for U.S. forces here in Tikrit," he said.
Also Monday, north of Baghdad, guerrillas floated a bomb on a palm log down the Diala River, a Tigris tributary, and detonated it under an old bridge linking the city of Baqouba to Tikrit.
U.S. soldiers had built a pontoon bridge downstream and were renovating the old bridge, but after the explosion they closed both.
"We've been repairing it since the end of April, but now we've got people trying to blow it up," said Lt. Col. Bill Adamson, a 4th Infantry Division commander. "Because of this damage, we've got to shut it to all the civilian traffic."
In India Tuesday, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, said from Baghdad to Tikrit, Iraq was still a war zone.
"Eighty percent of the security incidents are happening there," Myers told a news conference. "It's fair to say it's still a war zone in that area. It's still a very challenging environment, a very hard environment."
A previously unknown militant Iraqi group also vowed in a videotape broadcast by the Dubai-based Al Arabiya satellite channel to continue armed attacks on U.S. troops until they were forced to leave Iraq.
"Oh America, you have declared war on God and the soldiers of God, so brace yourself for a war from God and his Prophet and the soldiers of God," a member of the Jihad Salafi Group said in the tape.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.