US forces round up rebel suspects

US troops rounded up suspected rebels today during house-to-house searches in strongholds of Saddam Hussein, capitalising on intelligence gleaned from the capture of the former Iraqi dictator.

US troops rounded up suspected rebels today during house-to-house searches in strongholds of Saddam Hussein, capitalising on intelligence gleaned from the capture of the former Iraqi dictator.

Troops killed at least two civilians in the operations.

General Richard Myers, chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Fox News Sunday TV programme that several hundred Saddam loyalists had been rounded up in recent raids, including “some of the leadership of this insurgency, absolutely, some of the cell leaders”.

Myers tied the arrests to the capture of Saddam, saying: ”Some of the information we gleaned when we picked up Saddam Hussein led to a better understanding of the structure of the resistance from the former regime elements.”

Saddam was arrested on December 13 in a hideout near his hometown of Tikrit, and the US military has said soldiers also seized a briefcase containing documents that shed light on the anti-US insurgency. The CIA is interrogating him in Iraq.

“The only word I have is that he’s not being cooperative. But other than that, I don’t know. I haven’t had a report in the last 24 hours,” Myers said.

In raids that began after midnight, US troops rounded up dozens of people, smashing down doors to surprise residents in their search for weapons and rebels in hold-outs of Saddam loyalists.

They targeted Fallujah, a centre of resistance west of Baghdad, Rawah on the Euphrates River, Samarra 75 miles north of Baghdad and Jalulah, northwest of Baghdad.

Troops of the Army’s 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment blockaded Rawah, near the western border with Syria, for a multi-day sweep dubbed Operation Santa Claws, the US Army said.

Soldiers raided homes, captured 60 Iraqis for questioning about the insurgency, and are seeking more than 100 ”terrorists” and senior members of Saddam’s Baath Party, said Lt. Brian Joyce.

A 60-year-old woman was killed when soldiers blasted open the reinforced steel door of her home with explosives, said Lt. Col. Henry Kievenaar, the regiment commander.

Troops who patrolled in tanks, Humvees and Bradley armoured vehicles seized dozens of AK-47 assault rifles and several rocket-propelled grenade launchers, he said. They were searching for more arms caches and “people who finance, supply and organise resistance to the coalition.”

Rawah was put under curfew from 7pm (1600 GMT) until dawn.

Earlier insurgents targeted the oil infrastructure in an apparent attempt to undermine the US-led occupation of Iraq, which is suffering severe fuel shortages, partly because of sabotage, distribution problems and dilapidated infrastructure.

Rebels firing rocket-propelled grenades hit storage tanks in southern Baghdad on Saturday, creating fires that burned about 2.6 million gallons of gasoline, said Issam Jihad, a spokesman for the Oil Ministry.

Also a pipeline exploded in the al-Mashahda area, 15 miles north of Baghdad, in what Jihad called “an act of sabotage.”

US troops escaped unscathed this morning when two guerrillas fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a three-truck convoy in Mosul, 250 miles north of Baghdad. The grenade hit a passing civilian vehicle, seriously injuring the Iraqi driver.

On Saturday, soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division traded gunfire with about 20 guerrillas in an airborne raid on the house of a sheikh suspected of directing resistance in Jalulah, division spokeswoman Maj. Josslyn Aberle said.

The troops killed one person, wounded another and arrested 36 people, Aberle said.

On Saturday night, the US military said it had detained 111 people in 48 hours in Samarra, including 15 suspected of directing attacks on Americans. In past raids, many detainees were released after questioning.

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