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3 more `most wanted' former Iraqi regime members in U.S. custody

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Three more men on the United States' list of the 55 "most wanted" former Iraqi regime members are now in U.S. custody, bringing the total who have been apprehended to 18, military officials said Friday.

Two of the apprehensions were announced by military officials in Baghdad. A third was announced by Central Command in Doha, Qatar.

A fourth former high-ranking official who is not on the top 55 list also was apprehended in Baghdad, military officers said.

Meanwhile, in Najaf, local police captured the primary suspect in the murder of a prominent pro-Western cleric who was stabbed to death in a mosque in that city last month. The arrest was noteworthy not just for the crime but also because it was the first significant action by Najaf's new, mostly volunteer police force.

Military officials with V Corps in Baghdad identified newly detained former officials as Deputy Prime Minister Abd Al-Tawab Mullah Huwaysh, Revolutionary Council Command member Mizban Khadr Hadi and former Minister of Trade Muhammad Mahdi Al Salih.

Huwaysh was number 16 on the list, and Hadi was No. 41. Al Salih is not on the list.

Huwaysh, considered a close associate of Saddam's son Uday, oversaw Iraq's armaments programs. Huwaysh turned himself in Friday after sending emissaries to negotiate his surrender with American military officials this week, said Lt. Col. William Jeffers of the Army's Third Infantry Division.

Hadi and Al Salih were captured Thursday in Baghdad. The circumstances of their apprehensions were unclear Friday, Jeffers said.

The three are being held at an undisclosed location outside Baghdad.

Central Command in Doha, Qatar, said Taha Muhyl al Din Maruf, vice president and Revolutionary Command Council member and No. 42 on the list, also was in coalition custody. There was no information on where Maruf was being held or the circumstances of his detention.

The Army's top lawyer in Iraq, V Corps staff judge advocate Col. Marc Warren, said Friday the detainees were being treated "humanely" and would be given routine 21-day reviews of their cases to determine whether they should continue to be held.

Many of the top former leaders may face war crimes charges, but American officials have not decided how long they may be held or what proceedings they may face.

In Najaf, an hourlong grenade and gun battle that erupted outside the holiest Shiite shrine ended with the arrest of a man police say beat and fatally stabbed pro-Western cleric Abdul Majid al Khoei at the shrine three weeks ago.

Mahar Ali al Baghdadi is in custody at an undisclosed location with a bullet wound in his lower abdomen and two more in his left thigh resulting from a battle with police, according to a Najaf police official.

Baghdadi and 15 others have been on a most-wanted list circulated by Najaf authorities for the past two weeks, but Friday was the first time there were enough police officers on duty to pursue any suspects, said Jaber Nima, 37, one of the arresting officers.

Khoei, who had just returned to Iraq from exile, was a moderate cleric who U.S. officials had hoped would unite the country's fractious Shiites behind a democratic government.

Nima said police lookouts in town reported seeing Baghdadi near the Grand Imam Ali Shrine at 1:30 a.m. Friday. Baghdadi threw a grenade into a crowd and injured two bystanders, Nima said. Fifty-four officers—the entire Najaf police force, cobbled together only three days ago—then rushed to the scene and came under fire from Baghdadi and about a dozen of his supporters.

Police fought back and gave chase, capturing Baghdadi and another suspect whose name was not on the wanted list. The other gunmen apparently got away.

Baghdadi's arrest pleased some townspeople. "He and his gang have been terrorizing our town," said shopkeeper Mohanet al Hosei, 26.

Nima said he does not know what will happen to Baghdadi. Iraq's legal system has been largely nonexistent since the collapse of the Saddam Hussein government.

But there were indications that his arrest would not be the end of tension in Najaf.

An hour after Baghdadi's arrest, a group of his supporters fired on the city jail across the street, mistakenly thinking Baghdadi was inside and that they could spring him, Nima said. Police were able to repel the attackers, Nima said.


(Gerlin reported from Baghdad, Nelson from Najaf.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.