BAGHDAD, Iraq - The No. 10 most-wanted Iraqi official surrendered yesterday, as U.S. military officials launched a half-dozen overnight raids and stationed soldiers at gas stations in a high-profile campaign to battle lawlessness on the streets.
Gen. Kamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan al-Tikriti, a former top official of the elite Republican Guard military units, surrendered to U.S. forces in Baghdad, defense officials said. The arrest of al-Tikriti, a cousin of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the "queen of clubs" card in the Army's most-wanted deck, came after an expanded cadre of U.S. troops acting as police went on 400 patrols and raided six sites. Soldiers arrested 129 people, including three "Mafia-style" crime bosses who dealt in stolen cars and drugs, Army officials said.
Amid rising complaints of crime, trucks ferrying well-armed U.S. soldiers through the city have become increasingly visible in a capital.
Safety problems have delayed the exodus of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which has been in the gulf region since September and had been expected to leave within the next two weeks, Army officials said. An advance group of soldiers from the 1st Armored Division is being trained to take over the 3rd Infantry's peacekeeping duties.
Doubling night patrols
Crime and chaos in the capital have threatened to undermine support for the U.S.-led toppling of Hussein, but Maj. Gen. Buford Blount and Maj. Gen. William Webster told reporters yesterday that they were doubling night patrols and making substantial progress in restoring order.
Webster pointed out that troops are grappling with issues never anticipated in the Pentagon's reconstruction plan for Iraq. "We did not expect the entire armed forces of Iraq to leave all of their equipment ... and put on civilian clothes when we conducted our initial planning," he said. "We did not expect all of the police forces to go home and stay home."
Public safety issues are among the reasons the Pentagon's provisional authority is expected to continue running Iraq for months, rather than weeks, delaying the transfer of power to Iraqi leaders.
"It's my understanding ... that the provisional authority of the coalition will be extended for some period of time," said Buck Walters, the former Army general in charge of South Central Iraq, one of the four U.S. oversight regions. "There were early notions that perhaps we should move to an interim Iraqi government within a matter of weeks. I think the understanding now is that given the instability, particularly in Baghdad, it's going to be necessary to maintain the stability that's provided by the coalition for a while longer."
An official at the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which is shepherding the rebuilding of an Iraqi government, denied that there had been any change in plans. Coalition leaders had said only that a process would be in place to organize a government by June, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
About 7,000 Iraqi police officers, a fraction of the Baghdad force, have reported back to work. But few have the weapons, uniforms and cars they need to do their jobs; some of those who do are busy recovering stolen police vehicles. Yet Blount said the Army expects to see the number of working police stations in the city increase from two to 32 in the next month.
Until then, securing the capital is up to U.S. soldiers, who confiscate as many as 200 weapons a day at roadblocks, Blount said.
Fights at gas stations
Traffic is another problem, and Army officials say they expect to help clear the jams by restoring broken traffic signals. Over the past two weeks, soldiers have appeared at gas stations throughout Baghdad, where fights are frequent as commuters start lining up at closing time to get gas the next day.
In many parts of Iraq outside Baghdad, conditions are much improved, although problems persist. In the Al Hilla region south of Baghdad, appointed governor Iskandar Witwit was speaking from his office in Babil when the lights went dark. He said he has been told that UNICEF and other groups would bring food, blankets and other goods within days, but he had not seen them.
Still, the lawlessness seen in Baghdad is not echoed in Al Hilla.
"What you have in Baghdad, which is characterized as looting, is in fact sabotage," said Walters, who oversees the district in the Shia region. "The looting is over. ... What's going on now in my judgment is absolute and simple sabotage. ... We don't have that here."
As security efforts intensify, troops continue to uncover the grisly reminders of the toppled government. A team of investigators from Kuwait's Department of Interior arrived yesterday at a site five miles west of the Lake Habbaniya Tourist Village to investigate a possible gravesite of Kuwaiti prisoners, missing since their capture during the Persian Gulf war in 1991.
The department's Hasam Marafie said that of the 600 bodies believed to be buried in the sandy desert location, only 146 are thought to be Kuwaitis. Marafie studied the clothing and took pictures of remains, including a skull with a bullet hole.
There were two bodies clearly visible in one location believed to be those of the Kuwaitis because of the type of clothing they were wearing. Several yards away, more bodies lay in a deeply dug ditch. The gravesite appeared to be in the middle of a military firing range.
John Hendren is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.