TIKRIT, Iraq – U.S. forces captured four suspected leaders of the anti-U.S. resistance in Iraq during pre-dawn raids Thursday, the military said, a day after the Americans netted 18 suspected Saddam Hussein (search) loyalists and found a huge stockpile of weapons.
One suspect from Thursday's action allegedly organized cells and armed guerrilla fighters for attacks on U.S. forces in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit (search), said Lt. Col. Steve Russell of the 4th Infantry Division (search), which carried out the raids.
He said two former Iraqi generals suspected of organizing guerrilla attacks nationwide and another suspected anti-U.S. ringleader were also captured. Russell declined to name any of them or provide other details.
An Associated Press reporter on the scene said one raid began as Apache attack helicopters circled overhead and about 100 soldiers backed by four battle tanks stormed a suspected hotel.
The troops seized control of the building without resistance and brought 39 men outside, where they were questioned. All but one were released.
"If you fight against your government, we will hunt you down and kill you," Russell told the freed men through an interpreter.
On Wednesday, Iraq's postwar efforts at recovery continued. In Baghdad, the U.S.-installed Governing Council asked for U.S. help in creating desperately needed jobs, while to the south in Diwaniyah, Spanish soldiers began setting up a base for troops from Spain and four Latin American countries to replace U.S. forces heading home.
Wednesday marked the fifth straight day that no U.S. military personnel were reported killed in attacks. Military combat deaths had been coming almost daily, with 52 U.S. soldiers killed in combat since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat over.
The man suspected of organizing guerrilla attacks, nabbed Sunday by Iraqi police officers, was the brother of a Saddam Hussein bodyguard captured by U.S. forces on July 29, Russell said Wednesday.
Russell did not identify the man, who was handed over to the Americans, but said he was the brother of Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Musslit, who was believed to have detailed knowledge of Saddam's hiding places.
Eighteen other suspected guerrillas were arrested in seven raids late Tuesday and early Wednesday across north-central Iraq, Maj. Josslyn Aberle said.
An Iraqi informant led soldiers to a large weapons cache 25 miles northeast of Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, on Sunday, she said. It included two 20-foot missiles, 3,000 mortar rounds, 250 anti-tank rockets and almost 2,000 artillery rounds.
Russell said soldiers killed a man who tried to attack soldiers with a rocket-propelled grenade in Tikrit. "He was sneaking through an alleyway and we engaged him. Soldiers saw him fall," Russell said. "We will engage or kill anyone with RPGs."
The Governing Council asked the U.S. civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer, to discuss a job-creation plan. Creating jobs is seen as one of the most crucial tasks in reducing crime and restoring normalcy in Iraq.
In Diwaniyah, 100 miles south of Baghdad, Spanish Brig. Gen. Alfredo Cardona was repairing barracks and setting up tents for a base camp for troops from Spain, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic scheduled to arrive within weeks.
"We should be ready by Sept. 1," he said.
Their arrival will let more U.S. troops head home from the region. But new U.S. troops prepared to deploy. The 10th Mountain Division at New York's Fort Drum said Wednesday it would deploy 600 more troops to Iraq. The entire 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, will "prepare for future contingencies as may be directed," the Army said.
In Baghdad, about 5,000 members of Iraq's Turkmen minority demonstrated in front of the main U.S. base to demand more representation in the Governing Council. Only one of the council's 25 members is Turkmen.
Iraq has a tense mix of religions and ethnicities, and many minorities are worried about their treatment and influence in postwar Iraq.
The grandson of the late Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Baghdad to set up a Shiite Muslim seminary movement, praised the U.S. war and said he hoped Iraq's newfound freedoms could spread to neighboring Iran. The grandson, Seyed Hussein Khomeini, has been critical of the Islamic revolution his grandfather led in 1979.
"As an Iranian, I see [the war in Iraq] as a liberation from oppression and dictatorship and tyranny which was never known before in history," he told Associated Press Television News. "This was their salvation from their suffering."
The former chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, Hans Blix, denounced the war in his strongest language yet, questioning the United States' argument that war was needed to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.
"Personally, I found it peculiar that those who wanted to take military action could -- with 100 percent certainty -- know that the weapons existed, and at the same time turn out to have zero percent knowledge of where they were," Blix told a Swedish radio program.
The United States has yet to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or Saddam himself. A series of raids have captured many of Saddam's top aides and killed his sons Uday and Qusay.