Troops Arrest Suspected Saddam Aides

U.S. soldiers stormed three houses near Saddam Hussein's (searchhometown on Saturday and detained four suspects, two believed linked to the ousted leader's special security force, the U.S. military said.

Also Saturday, U.S. troops of the 4th Infantry Division (searcharrested seven suspected insurgents and seized about 50 Kalashnikov rifles during raids near Baqouba. Iraqi firefighters also extinguished a blaze at a pipeline in northern Iraq. Officials suspected sabotage.

During one of the Tikrit (searchraids, troops questioned a man in his 50s who a U.S. commander said had worked in Saddam's Special Security Office. The agency provided security for major regime figures.

The man was led away blindfolded, his hands tied behind his back. His 15-year-old son was released.

"We are satisfied we found the individuals we wanted to," said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, commander of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment of the Army's 4th Division, which is based here.

The three raids took place about six miles north of Saddam's hometown of Tikrit. Raids in the area often target those suspected of financing attacks on coalition forces.

The older man was "expected to be of great intelligence value," Russell said. "We cast a wide net; sometimes we get a dolphin, sometimes we get a shark."

A detailed search of the man's house uncovered a leather portfolio of photographs of Saddam at various official occasions. The man said he had left Baghdad shortly before the city's fall in April and had come to his family home near Tikrit.

Earlier in the week, an Iraqi informer had pointed out the three homes in walled compounds as possible locations for explosives-making, Russell said. The suspects were identified as bombmakers.

No explosives or bomb-making tools were found in the Saturday raids, but the weapons uncovered at the three sites included several Kalashnikov rifles and a shotgun. A plastic bag stuffed with Saddam-era camouflage uniforms was also found at the older man's house.

One of the other detained suspects, who said he was a former policeman assigned to an electrical company, initially tried to hide his name. After rigorous questioning, he later said he lied about it because he was afraid. He was believed to be linked to the security office.

Another said he was formerly a police guard at a radio station while the fourth detained man was allegedly a former police officer.

During the Baqouba raid, troops of the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment raided five locations believed to be insurgent training camps and storage areas, according to the battalion operations officer, Capt. Andrew Morgato.

In Malaysia, Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council sought support Saturday from the biggest meeting of Muslim countries in three years, but objected to the deployment of peacekeepers from Turkey.

The issue of Iraq's status under U.S. occupation threatens to be the most divisive at the preparatory meetings and summit of leaders of the Organization of the Islamic Conference over the next week. The 57-nation group was split until recently over whether the Governing Council should assume the seat held by Saddam's ousted government.

"We don't like to have any peacekeeping troops from neighboring countries, because it might cause problems inside Iraq," said Riyadh al-Fadhli, a senior Iraqi Foreign Ministry official.

Turkey became the first Muslim country this week to approve sending peacekeeping troops to Iraq without requiring that the United States first turn control over to the United Nations.

But the Iraqi Governing Council rejected the Turkish proposal, expressing fears that peacekeepers from neighboring countries could end up interfering in Iraq's internal affairs. Turkey has long battled an ethnic Kurdish insurgency, and Kurds in northern Iraq fear that Turkish troops could turn on them.

Malaysia, the summit host, initially sought to prevent the council from taking Iraq's seat at the summit, saying the government lacked the legitimacy that only the United Nations and elections could confer.

But Arab countries, the real power in the Islamic world, have already allowed the council to take Iraq's seat at the Arab League and insisted that it be allowed to do the same at the first regular summit of Islamic national leaders since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

In northern Iraq, firefighters battled the blaze along the pipeline north of Kirkuk for hours, finally extinguishing the blaze about 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

"There was an explosion, sabotage," said Ghazi al-Talibani, a worker for the North Oil Company, which operates the pipeline, which carries oil from Zab to Kirkuk, 145 miles northeast of Iraq.

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, has said the country is losing $7 million daily because of the closure of the export pipeline to Turkey. In September, the line reopened for three days for the first time after the war. Three bomb blasts along the line forced its closure.

The cause of the fire was unknown, but there have been many sabotage attacks on pipelines in recent months. The damage is complicating the American rebuilding effort, which depends on oil revenue.

On Friday, an unidentified assailant lobbed a grenade on a passing U.S. military convoy in Fallujah, witnesses said. The Americans responded by opening fire. Three pedestrians were hurt, but it wasn't clear if their wounds were caused by the grenade or the gunfire. No U.S. troops were wounded.