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U.S. soldiers sweep Iraqi city for anti-American guerrillas

BAGHDAD, Iraq—More than 2,000 U.S. soldiers, acting on information recovered during the capture of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein, swept through the city of Samarra on Wednesday in a hunt for anti-American resistance leaders and fighters, officials said.

U.S. intelligence officials, who requested anonymity because the information is classified, said the soldiers who captured Saddam about 20 miles from Samarra on Saturday recovered a document with the names of former senior Iraqi officials who've been working with the anti-American resistance.

A few of the names were a surprise to U.S. intelligence officials, although most of them were already known and had long since gone into hiding, they said.

It couldn't be immediately determined how many suspected guerrillas were arrested in Samarra in what American military commanders dubbed Operation Ivy Blizzard.

The town is within the so-called Sunni triangle, the region north of Baghdad dominated by minority Sunni Muslims, the bedrock of Saddam's 24 years in power. The anti-U.S. insurgency, which has killed nearly 200 American soldiers since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations May 1, is concentrated in the region, and support for the former dictator remains strong there.

American military commanders began a series of operations Sunday to capture individuals on the list who hadn't already gone into hiding, including three former generals believed to have been financing and overseeing guerrilla attacks in the Baghdad area.

The raids in Samarra began Tuesday with the arrests of 79 suspected resistance members, including a suspected guerrilla leader, during a meeting in a building in which they apparently were planning attacks.

"We think it was a complete cell we caught," Gen. Raymond Ordierno, the commander of the 4th Infantry Division, was quoted as saying Wednesday in the northern city of Kirkuk by a Pentagon news service.

Ordierno, whose troops helped catch Saddam, said U.S. military officials were "still working through the intelligence we captured" with the former dictator.

The intelligence officials said no arrests were made as a result of information that Saddam provided in his interrogations, which they described as being very preliminary.

Saddam, one official said, had given up nothing, and reports that he had fingered resistance leaders and that documents recovered during his capture showed how resistance cells are linked to one another are "just flat wrong."

The intelligence officials said one name on the list, which was found in a house near the hole where Saddam was hiding, was that of Izzat Ibrahim al Douri, a top lieutenant of the former dictator who American military officials have said is a top insurgency leader.

The intelligence officials, however, said they believed al Douri was ill with cancer and that his son, Ahmed, was directing the resistance by former members of Saddam's security forces and Baath Party.

The latest operation in Samarra started before dawn Wednesday and involved more than 2,000 soldiers, tanks and armored vehicles from the 4th Infantry Division. U.S.-recruited Iraqi security forces assisted in the sweep.

"Operation Ivy Blizzard is a comprehensive, coordinated and offensive regiment of isolation of insurgents and extremists," said a statement from U.S. Central Command.

Other facets of the operation included a hearts-and-minds effort to boost links with the city's leaders, recruit new members for the police and other local security forces, and identify and fund infrastructure projects to improve the lives of the city's 200,000 residents, it said.

In Baghdad, a truck carrying fuel exploded at an intersection Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and injuring 20 others.

Iraqi police at first said the explosion was a bombing, and that the truck driver had been aiming at their station nearby.

But Capt. Jason Beck of the U.S. 1st Armored Division, which investigated, said it was an accident and that no bomb parts had been found.

The fuel truck collided with a pickup in the intersection shortly before dawn, police said. Many of the victims were passengers in a minibus.

Since Saddam was captured, violent demonstrations have erupted across several cities, and two suicide bombings at police stations have killed nine Iraqis.

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

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ

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