BAGHDAD, Iraq – American soldiers on Friday sealed off the village where Saddam Hussein (search) was born and ordered adults to register for identity cards, while insurgents mounted a series of harassing attacks on U.S. military and Iraqi government targets in the northern city of Mosul (search).
Starting around midnight Thursday, U.S. soldiers, Iraqi police and civil defense forces moved into Uja, a small dusty village about 10 miles southeast of Tikrit (search).
Soldiers stretched concertina wire around the perimeter of the village and established checkpoints. Residents over the age of 18 will be required to have registration cards to move in and out of the village, U.S. officers said.
The New York Times reported Friday that senior U.S. officials believe the former Iraqi leader, who is believed to have been on the run since U.S. forces took over Baghdad in April, is playing a major role in coordinating and directing attacks against American troops.
"This is an effort to protect the majority of the population, the people who want to get on with their lives," said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, commander oUf the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division.
Russell said he did not know whether Saddam was directing parts of the insurgency, but the village is the family home of many former Baathist regime members.
"There are ties leading to this village, to the funding and planning of attacks against U.S. soldiers," Russell said.
The U.S.-led coalition has been fighting a guerilla-style insurgency for months. So far, 117 soldiers have been killed by hostile fire since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat was over.
A total of 114 soldiers were killed in the active combat phase that began March 20.
Meanwhile, a roadside bomb exploded near a U.S. foot patrol on the outskirts of the northern city of Mosul and unidentified gunmen sprayed the city hall with automatic fire, officers said Friday. Nobody was injured in the attacks.
The violence in the north came after a bomb late Thursday rocked a row of shops in Baghdad's Old City, killing two people, and another exploded near a military police convoy north of the capital, slightly wounding two Americans.
In Baghdad's neighborhood of Salhiya, Iraqi police and U.S. troops on Thursday blocked a major street after residents informed authorities about a car parked under a pedestrian bridge fearing it is booby trapped. Bomb experts checked a white Mitsubishi parked a few hundred yards from the U.S. occupation authorities headquarters in Baghdad.
"At dawn, some people from the area came and told us there is a car that had been left in the street. We called the Americans and until now we don't know if it is booby trapped or not," police Sgt. Mohammed Tariq said.
In Washington, the House of Representatives approved a massive aid package requested by the Bush administration for nearly $65 billion for military personnel and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an additional $18.6 billion for reconstruction efforts in Iraq.
The Senate was expected to follow suit quickly.
The U.S. administration has been less successful in persuading international organizations -- including the United Nations and the international Red Cross -- to remain in Iraq. Prompted by Monday's attacks on three police stations and Baghdad office of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the organizations announced they would reduce staff and review their presence in Iraq.
Separately, the U.S.-installed Iraqi Governing Council said it was moving forward with setting up a war crimes tribunal to prosecute those accused of atrocities during Saddam Hussein's regime.
The decision to form the court was taken several weeks ago, council member Mouwafak al-Rabii said "but now we are taking practical steps to implement this decision and to create those war-crimes tribunal." He did not elaborate.
Human rights groups estimate several hundred thousand people were killed during Saddam's three decades in power. Multiple mass graves have been found throughout the country since the U.S.-led coalition deposed the dictator in April.
The U.S. administration repeatedly has stated that it wants past abuses to be prosecuted under an Iraqi-led legal system instead of an international tribunal akin to those for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.
The United States currently has in custody dozens of high-ranking officials from their list of most-wanted Iraqi figures -- many of them being held at the high security prison at the Baghdad International Airport.