FALLUJAH, Iraq – The U.S. military will likely change the commander of a new Iraqi brigade taking over security in Fallujah, bringing in another Saddam Hussein-era general named Mohammed Latif (search), a U.S. military official said.
The current commander, Maj. Gen. Jassim Mohammed Saleh (search), who moved into Fallujah on Friday at the head of the new brigade, will likely take a subordinate position to Maj. Gen. Latif, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The change came amid signs of confusion among U.S. officials over the identities of the generals who are forming the "Fallujah Brigade," which has already taken control of the cordon on the southern half of the city as Marines pull back from the siege.
U.S. officials have acknowledged that the generals and their soldiers were not vetted to see what their ties were with Saddam's regime.
Latif participated in meetings with Marines last week on the creation of the Fallujah Brigade (search), the top Marine commander, Lt. Gen. James Conway, said over the weekend. Conway said he believed that Latif had been exiled by Saddam's regime for several years.
"He is very well thought of, very well respected by the Iraqi general officers. You can just see the body language between them. And if I had to guess at this point, when we have this brigade fully formed, he demonstrates a level of leadership that tells me that he could become that brigade commander," Conway said.
The U.S. official, speaking Monday, said the decision to make Latif in charge emerged as it became clear that he was more influential.
"Gen. Saleh as I understand it will be working at the battalion level, not the brigade level," he said.
The Fallujah Brigade, made up of former soldiers from Saddam's army, took up further positions in the cordon around the city, replacing Marines who were pulling back to form an outer cordon. The Iraqi brigade now controls a ring around the southern half of Fallujah and is due to begin patrols inside soon.
Fallujah residents have been celebrating what many consider a victory over U.S. forces, with trucks full of cheering Iraqis driving through the city, waving flags. They also began to survey the damage from the bloody, monthlong siege.
On Monday, Iraqi volunteers wearing surgical masks and gloves disinterred bodies that had been buried in houses and backyards for reburial in a football field that has been turned into a graveyard.
U.S. officials have been eager to find an "Iraqi solution" to a monthlong siege that had raised an international outcry and strained ties with U.S.-allied Iraqi leaders.
There has been confusion over the identities of the generals in the Fallujah force. One U.S. officer said Saleh had been involved in an assassination plot against Saddam and that three of his children had been executed — apparently mistaking him for Mohammed al-Shehwani (search), a former Air Force officer who in April was named as head of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (search) and whose three sons were killed by Saddam.
Hoshyar Zibari, Iraq's Kurdish foreign minister, said there were reports Saleh was involved in crushing the uprising against Saddam's rule following the 1991 Gulf War. Latif does "not have such problems" and at one point was imprisoned by Saddam, Zibari told reporters.
U.S. officials say the Fallujah Brigade will crack down on hard-core guerrillas in the city — though the force itself will likely include some of the gunmen who last month were involved in fighting against the Marines. U.S. commanders say the insurgent movement in Fallujah has been led by foreign Arab militants and former figures from Saddam's regime.
Saleh on Sunday told the Arab television station Al-Arabiya that he did not believe there were any foreign fighters in the city.
Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that the U.S. military is still seeking the same objectives in Fallujah: "Deal with the extremists, the foreign fighters," rid the city of heavy weapons and find those behind the March 31 killing and mutilation of four American civilian security workers.