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GIs Capture Saddam Bodyguard, Associates

July 29, 2003

TIKRIT, Iraq (AP) _ American soldiers overpowered and arrested a bodyguard who rarely left Saddam Hussein’s side early Tuesday. The raid in the deposed dictator’s hometown also nabbed a security chief in the former government and a militia leader.

The soldiers captured Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Musslit in Tikrit, a key base for anti-American guerrillas, hours after troops there found enough anti-tank mines and gunpowder for a month of attacks on U.S. forces.

The two others captured were Daher Ziana, the head of security in Tikrit, and Rafa Idham Ibrahim al-Hassan, a leader of the Saddam Fedayeen militia, said Lt. Col. Steve Russell.

Al-Musslit was ``one of Saddam’s lifelong bodyguards,″ Russell said, and was regularly photographed with the former dictator, but Saddam was not found in the raid. The U.S. military, which has been raiding homes in northern Iraq every day, has described itself as close to capturing Saddam.

Soldiers fired two shots before charging in to grab al-Musslit. He resisted inside the home and soldiers had to wrestle him down, Russell said.

He was escorted from the home minutes later, bleeding and dressed only in his underwear and a T-shirt, and a medic attended to him as he sat in the back of a Humvee under close guard.

``We got our prime target,″ Russell said. ``This man was a close associate of Saddam Hussein.″

At least four others were seen being taken into custody in near-simultaneous raids on other houses in the heart of Tikrit. It was not immediately clear how many men in total were taken into custody, but Russell said the three they had targeted were captured in the raids.

In Baghdad, military officials said a U.S. soldier was killed Monday when insurgents dropped a grenade on his convoy as it drove below an overpass. Three soldiers were wounded.

The death brought to 49 the number of American soldiers killed in combat since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq. In all, 164 U.S. soldiers have died in combat in Iraq, 17 more than in the 1991 Gulf War.

Speaking during a visit to India, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Myers said central Iraq, from Baghdad to Tikrit, was still a ``war zone.″

``Eighty percent of the security incidents are happening there,″ Myers said at a news conference Tuesday in New Delhi. ``It’s fair to say it’s still a war zone in that area.″

``Militarily we won’t be defeated in Iraq,″ he said. ``We will stay until the job is done.″

U.S. soldiers in Tikrit found the buried weapons Monday outside an abandoned building that once belonged to the Fedayeen.

The troops uncovered 40 anti-tank mines, dozens of mortar rounds and hundreds of pounds of gunpowder.

Maj. Bryan Luke, 37, of Mobile, Ala., said the weaponry was enough for a month of guerrilla attacks and the discovery ``saved a few lives out there.″

``Forty mines could have caused a lot of problems for U.S. forces here in Tikrit,″ he said.

Between Tikrit and Baghdad, guerrillas floated a bomb on a palm log down the Diala River, a Tigris tributary, and detonated it under an old bridge linking Tikrit to the city of Baqouba. Baqouba, like Tikrit, is a hotbed of Saddam support in the so-called ``Sunni Triangle″ north and west of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

U.S. soldiers had built a pontoon bridge farther downstream and were renovating the old bridge, but after the explosion they closed both to the public.

``We’ve been repairing it since the end of April, but now we’ve got people trying to blow it up,″ said Lt. Col. Bill Adamson, a 4th Infantry Division commander. ``Because of this damage we’ve got to shut it to all the civilian traffic.″

The bomb was the first known guerrilla attack on a bridge. Bridges are especially crucial in a nation born around its two major rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Saboteurs have attacked infrastructure such as electricity plants, water installations and oil pipelines in the past.

Meanwhile, the hunt for Saddam continued, with U.S. military officials indicating they were close to catching up with him.

At least twice in the past week, American soldiers have raided houses where they believed they may have missed Saddam by a day _ once in the northern city of Mosul, and once at a farmhouse near Tikrit.

The raid of three farms near Tikrit on Sunday came after the military received intelligence that Saddam’s new security chief, and possibly Saddam himself, was hiding there. About 25 men were detained and released.

Shortly after killing Saddam’s sons Odai and Qusai in a raid on their hideout in Mosul on July 22, elements of the 101st Airborne Division raided another house in Mosul, where intelligence indicated Saddam was staying, a military official familiar with the operation said.

The military didn’t confirm a raid in Baghdad’s upscale Mansour neighborhood Sunday evening. Soldiers raided the home of Prince Rabiah Muhammed al-Habib, one of Iraq’s most influential tribal leaders, who said he believed they were looking for Saddam there.

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