SAMARRA, Iraq – U.S. troops arrested an Iraqi rebel leader and 78 others in a raid Tuesday near a town north of Baghdad where hours earlier guerrillas ambushed a U.S. patrol and sparked a gunbattle that killed 11 of the attackers.
Also Tuesday, Gen. Richard Myers (search), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Iraq and said U.S. troops might stay in Iraq for one or two years.
"About as far as we are looking is through the next couple of years," Myers said at Baghdad's airport, where he addressed troops.
But he would not set a firm timeframe, saying "it's going to depend on events over the next couple of years" — particularly the efforts to create an Iraqi government.
"As far as you can look out is a year, maybe two years. There is going to be a sovereign Iraqi government standing up soon. We're going to have to have negotiations with them," he said, adding: "I'm not saying we're staying for two years. Nobody can say right now."
Myers' visit came days after U.S. troops nabbed ousted leader Saddam Hussein (search) — though the general said it was planned long before and the timing was coincidental.
Tuesday's raid captured rebel leader Qais Hattam (search), No. 5 on the 4th Infantry Division's (search) list of "high value targets," said Capt. Gaven Gregory. The division has been on the front line in fighting the anti-U.S. insurgency in the Sunni Triangle and troops from the division led Saturday's capture of Saddam.
It was not clear if information from interrogations of Saddam led to the arrest of Hattam, who was not on the United States' main list of 55 most wanted regime figures.
The U.S. troops arrested 78 other people along with Hattam in the raid in the village of Abu Safa, near Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, Gregory said.
U.S. officials say Saddam's capture may hurt morale in the guerrilla insurgency that has killed some 200 Americans and has plagued efforts at stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq. But they also caution it won't bring an immediate reduction to attacks — and in fact could increase them on the short term.
"We expect it will take some time before we see any possible effects from what we've accomplished," Myers said.
Still, he added, "when you take this leader, who is at one time a very popular leader in this region, and you find him in a hole in the ground, that's a pretty powerful statement that you're on the wrong team."
U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez (search), the top commander in Iraq, said attacks on U.S. troops remain at around 18 per day. In November, one of the bloodiest months for U.S. forces, attacks reached the low 40s per day — but they dropped after a large offensive launched late in the month.
On Monday, guerrilla scouts in Samarra released a flock of pigeons as a U.S. patrol approached, apparently as a signal for an ambush, a military statement said. Two gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on American vehicles, and then took cover among children leaving school.
The attackers used a roadside bomb, automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades in the attack but inflicted no casualties on the patrol, the military said. U.S. snipers suppressed enemy fire and hit no civilians, the statement said. A company commander on the scene said 11 insurgents were killed in the ensuing firefight.
Samarra, a volatile town in the so-called Sunni Triangle that stretches north and west from Baghdad, was the scene of an intense battle between U.S. troops and insurgents last month. U.S. commanders claimed to have killed 54 guerrillas, but local residents and police reported that less than 10 people — most of them civilians — died in the firefight.
A roadside bomb, meanwhile, wounded three soldiers in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit (search). Two were in stable condition, and the third returned to duty, the Army said.
Also Tuesday, a pro-Saddam demonstration in the northern city of Mosul (search) ended in violence. One policeman was killed and a second was injured, police said. U.S. helicopters flew over the crowd and several armored vehicles were deployed nearby.
Myers cast doubt on regional news reports about the arrest of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who is the highest-ranking member of Saddam's former regime still at large and is thought to be organizing anti-U.S. attacks.
"We heard the same thing. We chased that down. We are not aware that has taken place," he said.
Pro-Saddam demonstrations have been held in several Iraqi towns.
In the town of Ramadi (search) west of Baghdad, soldiers killed three protesters and wounded two more on Monday, after as many as 750 people rallied in support for Saddam, the military said. The statement said U.S. troops were fired at repeatedly and one soldier was wounded.
In Fallujah (search), another hotspot of anti-American resistance west of Baghdad, crowds chanted: "We defend Saddam with our souls." They overran the mayor's office Monday after Iraqi police withdrew from the streets, the military said.
On Tuesday, dozens of U.S. troops, two tanks and a number of Bradley troop vehicles went to the municipal building in an apparent show of force, as helicopters hovered overhead.
Also Tuesday, the military said a U.S. soldier died after falling out of a moving vehicle north of Baghdad.