U.S. Detains Iraqis; Explosions Rock Baghdad

U.S. soldiers arrested dozens of rebel suspects including several associates of a former aide to Saddam Hussein (searchwho is believed to have a leading role in Iraq's insurgency. Early Wednesday, explosions rocked Baghdad as the U.S. military conducted an anti-rebel operation.

American commanders have said they had planned operations over the Christmas period after receiving intelligence that there might be rebel attacks. Asked about the repeated explosions south of the city center, a military spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity that operations, including "aerial activity and artillery," were under way.

A U.S. task force in Baqouba (search), 30 miles northwest of Baghdad, arrested five Iraqis Tuesday, including one suspected of recruiting guerrillas, said Maj. Josselyn Aberle of the 4th Infantry Division.

Two other military sources said the other four were believed to be associates of former Vice President Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri (search), the top remaining figure from the U.S. list of 55 most wanted Iraqis. U.S. commanders say he could be organizing anti-American resistance. Thirteen fugitives from the list remain at large, with al-Douri at No. 6 in the original ranking.

In an earlier raid in Baqouba, U.S. troops detained a former Iraqi army colonel suspected of recruiting ex-Iraqi soldiers to fight the U.S. military. Aberle said the ex-colonel was believed to be connected to a local businessman helping to finance the insurgency.

The former officer "is a midlevel in the national scheme, but quite important in the area," the major said.

Another task force in the area arrested two Iraqis discovered digging up a cache of 100 82mm mortar rounds and 20 rockets, Aberle said.

Near Fallujah, to the west of Baghdad, a military statement said troops captured "26 enemy personnel including two former Iraqi generals and an Iraqi Special Forces colonel."

Recent arrests in several towns are partly the result of information gleaned from the arrest of Saddam on Dec. 13, according to the U.S. military.

The military also has been getting information from more Iraqis since the Saddam's capture, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday.

Myers said that with Saddam out of the picture, "people are more willing to come forward."

"It probably tells you the role that fear plays in people's minds," the general told a Pentagon news conference.

In Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, gunmen fatally shot a judge, Youssef Murad, in his car Monday night. The assailants escaped.

Also in Mosul, rebels on Tuesday fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a convoy of four U.S. Humvees escorting a cash delivery to a city bank. One soldier was wounded, according to a U.S. soldier at the scene who declined to give his name.

After a nearly two-week search, U.S. Army divers found the body of an American soldier floating in the Tigris River on Tuesday. The soldier had jumped into the river on Dec. 10 in an attempt to save another soldier who fell overboard during a boat patrol.

The man who fell also drowned, and his body was discovered the day after the accident. The names of the victims have not been released.

South Korea's Cabinet answered Washington's call for help in Iraq on Tuesday, approving a plan to send 3,000 troops to join 460 military medics and engineers already in Iraq. That deployment, for nine months from April 1, would make the South Korean contingent the third largest in the 26-nation coalition after the United States and Britain.

An Arab League delegation met Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, the most powerful cleric in Iraq, in the southern city of Najaf. Assistant Secretary-General Ahmed bin Heli said the leader of Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims expressed "willingness" for the league, which opposes the U.S. occupation, to play a role in the transition to democracy.

In Brussels on Tuesday, the European Union contributed US$9.9 million to an internationally managed trust fund for Iraqi reconstruction.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told visiting members of Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council that Moscow was ready to write off 65 percent of the $8 billion that Baghdad owes Moscow -- Iraq's largest creditor, council member Samir Shaker Mahmoud said after a Kremlin meeting.

The debt is part of approximately $41 billion owed by Iraq to the so-called Paris Club of creditor nations; Iraq's overall debt is about $120 billion.