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2 GIs hurt; Forces raid Saddam loyalists
( 2003-09-08 16:58) (Agencies)

Iraqi guerrillas broke a period of relative calm Monday, striking at an American patrol in Baghdad with explosives as soldiers were driving out of a tunnel in the center of the city. Two soldiers were wounded, the military said.

The attack damaged two Humvees, one of which turned over and caught fire, according to a military spokesman.

Sunday afternoon the new military spokesman, Lt. Col. George Krivo, said the U.S. military had completed a 24-hour period in which no American soldiers had been killed or wounded.

Before dawn Monday, more than 100 U.S. troops stormed houses in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, searching for Saddam loyalists accused of financing or coordinating attacks on American soldiers. Four wanted men were arrested, the military said.

Acting on tips from Iraqis detained in previous raids as well as intelligence sources, the troops stormed houses in downtown Tikrit almost simultaneously, catching the men asleep.

The bloodless raid involved three companies from the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division in Humvees, Bradley fighting vehicles and 5-ton trucks.

"All those targeted were involved in attacks on coalition forces and government officials," said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, 1st Battalion commander. "The message we communicate is if you involve (yourself) in this type of activity, we will hunt you down or we will kill you."

The raid targeted seven men suspected of financing attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces in and around Tikrit, the hotbed of support for Saddam. At least two of them were not in their homes, said Col. James Hickey, commander of the 4th Infantry's 1st Brigade.

Others arrested, a number was not given, included cell leaders of Saddam Fedayeen guerrillas, who have fired rocket-propelled grenades at American patrols and rigged the roads of Tikrit with homemade bombs that have killed or wounded dozens of soldiers, U.S. military officials said.

Also Sunday, Iraq's new foreign minister, a member of the Kurdish minority, said he is going to this week's Arab League meeting in Egypt to claim Baghdad's seat in the organization, not beg for it.

Iraq's seat on the pan-Arab group's council of ministers has remained empty since Saddam Hussein's ouster in April. The Cairo-based organization has refused to recognize the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council, which was put in place in July.

"We are not seeking recognition. We are the de facto authority in Iraq, and we are attending as representatives of Iraq," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Sunday, in his first comments since being sworn in Wednesday by the Governing Council.

"Our seat has not been abolished and we are going with a positive attitude."

Amr Moussa, the league's secretary-general, has hinted that the bloc may finally recognize the Governing Council as a legitimate government and include it in the 22-member organization. But he said the ministers must decide.

In the holy city of Najaf, meanwhile, banned militiamen from the armed wing of a Shiite Muslim group stopped their weeklong patrol around a holy shrine where a top cleric was killed in a car bomb last month.

The unexplained disappearance of the Badr Brigade militiamen came one day after L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, said the armed men were acting with the approval of coalition authorities.

However, Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television reported Sunday that the United States gave armed militias in Iraq's holiest Shiite city, 110 miles south of Baghdad, until Sept. 13 to disarm and disband.

Krivo said the American-led coalition would not turn a "blind eye to any militia."

"We are supporting any Iraqi who desires to help secure the country. However, that has got to be through the direction of the central government," Krivo said in Baghdad.

Another senior U.S. military official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that militia groups would be dealt with "gingerly" once tensions cooled in Najaf, where a leading Shiite cleric was assassinated in an Aug. 29 car bomb outside the Imam Ali shrine. The bombing killed between 85 and 125 people.

"Dealing with militia requires finesse. It's going to require great sensitivity to the ethnic groups," the official said. The U.S. objective is to ensure central government control, the official added, saying, "You cannot have people setting up private armies."

Meanwhile, the military said Sunday that U.S. forces around Saddam's hometown of Tikrit uncovered a cache of weapons and ammunition hidden in a row of bunkers that residents dubbed the "RPG shopping center."

Saturday's discovery included wire-guided surface-to-surface Sager missiles, 315 rocket-propelled grenades and 62 mortar shells, spokeswoman Maj. Josslyn Aberle said.

Coalition forces are increasingly being attacked from a distance by mortars and remote-controlled homemade bombs, a possible change in strategy by anti-American insurgents, Krivo said. Since mid-August, four car bombs have killed scores of people in Baghdad and Najaf.

On Sunday, Dubai-based satellite channel al-Arabiya aired a tape purportedly by Abdul Rahman Al-Najdi, an alleged senior propagandist and financier for al-Qaida. The voice on the tape denied that the terrorist group was involved in the Najaf bombing that killed Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim.

"Our aim is to fight the Americans and kill them," al-Najdi said.

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