U.S. forces hunt Hussein deputy

American officials deny reports that senior aide was captured or killed

December 03, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. forces mounted a series of raids yesterday intended to kill or capture a top member of Saddam Hussein's government, but denied reports afterward that they had succeeded.

More than 1,000 U.S. soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade sealed off the city of Hawija, about 25 miles west of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, and arrested 27 suspected guerrillas. A military spokesman said that one of their targets had been Izzat Ibrahim, a former senior aide to Hussein who is believed to be coordinating at least some attacks against U.S. soldiers.

In action near Samarra, a U.S. soldier was killed yesterday when a homemade bomb exploded underneath the Humvee in which he was riding along Highway 1. The soldier, who was not identified, was attacked two days after U.S. troops and Iraqi guerrillas engaged in an intense firefight in Samarra, about 100 miles north of Baghdad. The Americans said they had killed up to 58 Iraqis; local hospital officials put the number of dead at 8.

Near Hawija, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Ibrahim, so close to Hussein that he is still known in many parts as "the deputy," has spent time in the city, a Sunni Arab enclave in the mostly Kurdish area around Kirkuk.

Reports of Ibrahim's capture began circulating yesterday afternoon, after a statement by Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, that Ibrahim had been captured or killed. An unidentified Kurdish official in Kirkuk was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that Ibrahim had been "killed or captured."

By day's end, U.S. military officials said Ibrahim was not in custody. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and White House spokesman Scott McClellan said they could not confirm the reports of Ibrahim's capture.

"I can emphatically state that we did not capture him today, and as far as I know, no one in the U.S. military has," Maj. Douglas Vincent, a spokesman for the 173d Airborne Brigade, said in Kirkuk.

But Vincent's remarks, and statements made by other U.S. officials, seemed to leave open the possibility that Ibrahim was in the custody of someone else, or that he had been killed. In the past, U.S. and Iraqi officials have tried to keep secret the capture of some former members of Hussein's regime in the hope that that they could lead them to Hussein.

U.S. military officers say Ibrahim, who is in his late 70s and is believed to be dying from leukemia, is behind at least some of the attacks being carried out against Americans. Last month, the Americans offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture or death. Last week, U.S. soldiers arrested his wife and daughter.

Ibrahim has been with Hussein since his rise to power began in the late 1960s, and he became one of the most feared men in the regime. He was among the officials believed to have authorized the use of poison gas against the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988.

Photographs of Iraqis detained in the raids in the Hawija area showed the words "black list" and numbers written on the backs of their necks. Military officials said the notations were probably intended as guidance for U.S. interrogators. Before the U.S.-led invasion, intelligence agencies drew up lists of most-wanted Iraqis, including a classified "black list" in which individuals were assigned numbers.

The officials said it was possible the notations signified that the Iraqis in the photographs were on that list, but it was more likely, they said, that the arresting officials believed the detainees had a connection to those individuals and that interrogators should pursue that line of questioning.

Even as U.S. soldiers scoured the area yesterday, many residents expressed support for Ibrahim. One of them was Hassan Sultan, an Iraqi who lived in a village just outside Hawija.

"They will not catch the deputy, God willing, because we are ready to sacrifice our lives for him, and for Mr. Saddam, before allowing the Americans to catch them," Sultan said.

Killed in Iraq

The latest identifications of American military personnel killed in Iraq as reported by the Department of Defense:

Army Spc. Uday Singh, 21, Lake Forest, Ill.; killed Monday under attack in Habbaniyah; assigned to 1st Battalion, 34th Armored Regiment, 1st Infantry Division; Fort Riley, Kan.

Associated Press

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