Published December 18, 2003
SAMARRA, Iraq – Rebels killed a U.S. soldier in the first fatal ambush for the U.S. military since the capture of Saddam Hussein (search) last weekend. Also in the Iraqi capital, Shiites buried an assassinated politician Thursday after a sneak attack blamed on Saddam loyalists.
The American soldier was killed late Wednesday when a 1st Armored Division (search) patrol came under fire in northwest Baghdad, the military said. A second soldier and an Iraqi interpreter were wounded.
In New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) called for a meeting to discuss what role the U.N. might play when Iraq transitions away from U.S. occupation. Meanwhile, Moscow signaled its willingness to start negotiations to forgive Iraq's $8 billion debt to Russia and Japan will send 1,000 troops to southern Iraq.
The American's death brings to 314 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in combat since the war began March 20. There have been 199 soldiers killed in hostile action since President Bush declared the end of major combat on May 1. Some 144 soldiers have died of non-hostile causes, according to the Pentagon.
At a briefing Thursday, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said there had been 24 engagements with guerrillas in the previous 24 hours. He said attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces were fewer than last month, though attacks on Iraqi civilians and security forces had increased.
On Thursday, Annan called for a Jan. 15 meeting of the major players in Iraq to discuss what role the United Nations will play.
Frustrated that Iraqi Governing Council (search) or the U.S.-led coalition running the country have not given him specific answers, Annan said it was time to sit down with representatives from both bodies.
"It has to be a three-way conversation," the secretary-general said. "Once we have that, I will make a judgment."
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi approved a plan to send 1,000 troops to southern Iraq, Japan's first military deployment to a combat zone since World War II.
Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia is willing to start negotiations on forgiving Iraq's $8 billion in debt to Moscow, its largest creditor. Russia "expressed its readiness to in the near future start negotiations on settling the debt within the framework of the Paris Club with the goal of relieving Iraq's debt burden," according to a Kremlin statement.
In Baghdad residents snapped up copies of an Iraqi newspaper with a front-page photo of Saddam sitting in his jail cell with one of his longtime opponents, Ahmad Chalabi, a member of Iraq's American-picked Governing Council and once a Pentagon favorite to succeed Saddam.
The picture, covering most of the front page of the Al-Moutamar newspaper, which Chalabi publishes, was taken Sunday when Chalabi and three other Council members were taken to see the former dictator. In the photo, Saddam is sitting on a floor leaning against a bare tile wall, wearing a white robe and a jacket, while Chalabi sits on a chair nearby, leaning forward as if talking to the captive former leader.
The edition sold out on newsstands by midday Thursday, with some vendors selling copies for more than double the price. Chalabi's spokesman, Entifadh Qanbar, said even he couldn't find a copy of the paper. Iraqi papers have run the U.S. military's photos of Saddam in custody — but Iraqis are eager for any look at the man who ruled over them for more than two decades.
Kadhim Abdel Razek, 57, said he couldn't find a single copy of the paper at many stands because it was sold out.
"I would pay double price, even more, to see the man closely," he said. "I just want to see what he is wearing, what shape he is in to compare it to the picture in my mind."
Since the announcement Sunday of Saddam's capture, U.S. forces have conducted major operations in Samarra, a focus of guerrilla resistance 60 miles north of Baghdad and about 20 miles south of where the former Iraqi leader was found hiding in a tiny underground refuge.
Sgt. Robert Cargie, spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division, said Thursday in Tikrit that 86 people were arrested, 12 of whom were on a U.S. target list. Soldiers also discovered a weapons cache containing 200 AK47 assault rifles and some bomb-making material.
Two Iraqis trying to attack U.S. soldiers were killed during the Samarra operations, in which troops smashed the gates of homes and the doors of workshops and junkyards searching for guerrillas.
In Baghdad, suspected followers of Saddam shot to death Muhannad al-Hakim, a representative of a major Shiite party and a member of a prominent political family, a party official said Thursday.
Al-Hakim, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), was killed Wednesday while leaving his home, party official Latif al-Rubaie said. The assassinated man was buried Thursday.
Al-Hakim, in his mid-30s, was head of security at the Education Ministry and a cousin of Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, the current Governing Council president. The job rotates among members monthly.
In August, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, a top Shiite cleric and founder of SCIRI during Iranian exile, was killed in a car bombing in the southern city of Najaf that left at least 85 people dead. He was a brother of Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim.