TIKRIT, Iraq – The U.S. military on Wednesday arrested a wife and a daughter of a top Saddam Hussein (search) deputy suspected of leading the anti-American insurgency. A top general said rebels are bringing in new leaders to help them bounce back from losses inflicted by an aggressive American campaign.
As troops geared up for a first Thanksgiving in Iraq, Jay Garner, the retired American general who first headed the U.S.-led occupation, sharply criticized the coalition's handling of postwar Iraq. Two top leaders of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority also criticized the U.S. plan for a transfer of power to Iraqis, saying elections should occur sooner than March 15, 2005.
The detention of the relatives of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri (search), a lifelong Saddam associate who is No. 6 on the list of most-wanted Iraqis, was an apparent attempt to pressure his surrender or gather intelligence that might lead to him. U.S. officials last week offered a $10 million reward for information leading to al-Douri's capture.
Late Wednesday, the Italian mission in Baghdad (search) was hit and damaged by a rocket or mortar, but no one was injured, state-run RAI television reported in Italy. The attack occurred two weeks after a homicide bomber detonated a truck bomb outside the Italian barracks in Nasiriyah, killing 19 Italians and 14 others.
Troops of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division in Samarra, 70 miles north of Baghdad, detained the women in a raid that also netted another al-Douri associate, spokesman Lt. Col. William MacDonald said at the division's headquarters in Tikrit.
Under Saddam, al-Douri was vice chairman of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council, and shortly before the war began March 20, Saddam placed him in charge of defenses in northern Iraq. Al-Douri is believed to have a second wife, though like most Baathist leaders few details of his family are known.
MacDonald gave no details on why the wife and daughter were seized, but American forces have frequently arrested relatives of fugitives to interrogate them on their family member's whereabouts and as a way of putting pressure on the wanted men to surrender.
The media director of the Amnesty International USA, Alistair Hodgett, questioned the tactic, saying if the women were arrested to pressure al-Douri to turn himself in, they were being used as "bargaining chips."
"At a minimum, the U.S. should clarify on what legal basis (they) ... have been detained. If the purpose of their arrest is to exert pressure on Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri and force his surrender, then it is cause for grave concern," Hodgett said in a statement.
U.S. officials have said they believe al-Douri has planned some of the attacks against U.S. forces.
The 4th Infantry Division commander, Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, said the insurgents are trying to regroup after an aggressive U.S. campaign against them in recent days crippled their ability to attack American troops.
"We're getting reports where there might be some people trying to come back in here and reorganize," Odierno said, adding: "They're trying to bring leadership from other parts of the country."
Garner said the insurgency could have been less powerful had he put more troops on Baghdad streets when he became U.S. administrator for Iraq in April. He also said his successor made a mistake in disbanding the Iraqi army.
In an interview broadcast Wednesday on British Broadcasting Corp. radio, Garner said looting in Baghdad shortly after the Americans arrived disillusioned many Iraqis, something more U.S. troops on the streets could have prevented.
He also said the coalition should have moved more quickly to establish an Iraqi government. And he criticized a decision by his successor, L. Paul Bremer, to disband the Iraqi army.
"You're talking about around a million or more people ... that are suffering because the head of the household's out of work," providing potential recruits for the anti-U.S. insurgency, he said.
Bremer has justified the disbanding by saying the army had already dissipated during the last days of the war, military facilities were heavily damaged and stripped bare by looters and it was necessary to rid the military of Saddam's Baathist supporters. A coalition official in Baghdad said the administration had nothing to add to that explanation.
Bremer's administration also came under criticism in Iraq's holy city of Najaf, where two top Shiite Muslim leaders said they want elections sooner than a plan agreed to be the coalition and the coalition-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, which calls for the creation of an interim administration by next July and elections in March 2005.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani feels that "real loopholes" in the plan "must be dealt with, otherwise the process will be deficient and will not meet the expectations of the people of Iraq," said Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite member of the Governing Council, after talks with al-Sistani.
The ayatollah wields considerable influence among Shiites, who make up more than 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people.
Britain's visiting foreign secretary said such a power transfer is crucial to making Iraq safer. Jack Straw, on a two-day visit to Iraq, said a transition to Iraqi rule will improve security.
"The more that we can give all Iraqis a stake in their future and a stable political architecture in which to work, the more I believe more Iraqis will become committed to that future and fewer will think that terror ... is the way forward," Straw said at a news conference.
Meanwhile, about a dozen U.S. military officers began preparing Thanksgiving turkey dinners with the help of Indian cooks, who regularly feed the huge number of U.S. soldiers in Tikrit.
Eight truckloads of turkey meat, cranberry sauce and other ingredients were sent from the United States. U.S. troops escorted the convoy to Iraq from Kuwait, where a plane brought in the food, said Sgt. 1st Class Juliet Palmer, one of the designated Army cooks.
"We're going to make it as close to home as possible," she promised.