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US arrests 18 in Iraqi hotel attack
( 2003-11-10 16:26) (Agencies)

American soldiers arrested 18 people in a deadly missile barrage last month that U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz narrowly escaped, officials said Sunday. U.S. warplanes bombed near a center of Iraqi resistance, and the military said it was intensifying the fight against insurgents after increasingly bloody attacks.

The U.S. command also announced the death of another soldier, killed late Saturday when his vehicle struck a land mine in Baghdad. A senior Iraqi official warned that mounting violence may delay steps toward a new constitution, considered a major condition for returning the country to full Iraqi rule.

Lt. Col. George Krivo, spokesman for the U.S. command, said the 18 suspects were arrested in Baghdad by the 1st Armored Division but gave no further details. The missile attack Oct. 27 against the Al-Rasheed Hotel killed a U.S. colonel and injured 18 others.

Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the Iraq war, was staying in the hotel but escaped injury. The barrage was part of a series of escalated attacks over the past two weeks, including the downing of a Chinook helicopter Nov. 2 in Fallujah in which 16 soldiers were killed and 21 injured.

The downing of the Chinook and the crash Friday of a Black Hawk helicopter in Tikrit made the first week of November the bloodiest for American forces since U.S. President Bush declared an end to major combat May 1.

With the start of the holy month of Ramadan on Oct. 27 in Iraq, U.S. forces lifted curfews in Baghdad and Tikrit and scaled down nighttime raids to avoid angering ordinary Iraqis at a time of heightened religious sentiment.

But after the wave of attacks that began around the start of Ramadan, the military now appears to be returning to a more robust operation.

The military has launched a new, massive response tactic aimed at taking the fight to the insurgents, officials said. Krivo said there was a "new focus" in the north and west of Baghdad to find areas where Saddam loyalists "and other noncompliant forces are operating."

"We have picked up the intensity of our offensive operations and this is specifically manifested with the larger numbers of troops in the 82nd Airborne and other forces to the west," Krivo said, without giving details on the numbers of troops.

"We are on offensive operations," a U.S. officer said on condition of anonymity. "You can expect to see an increase in the level of intensity and the amount of activity that is occurring, especially in those `challenging' areas."

"Part of warfare is coercion and affecting the hearts and minds of the enemy and certainly a show of force is a tool that can be used by commander," the official said.

As part of the new tactic, U.S. jets dropped three 500-pound bombs in the Tikrit area and blasted at least three buildings early Saturday after the Black Hawk crashed apparently due to hostile fire.

Late Saturday, U.S. F-16 jets dropped three 500-pound bombs in the Fallujah area after a series of ambushes wounded three paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, the military said.

In the northern city of Mosul, a senior U.S. commander blamed the attacks on a "marriage of convenience" between members of the former regime, criminals and foreign fighters.

"There are former regime members who want to disrupt the successes achieved here in the north," Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, said. There are also "criminals ... who are willing to be guns for hire," as well as "some foreigners who have come in small numbers and have been involved in this as well."

In Baghdad, meanwhile, three mortars exploded late Sunday in Baghdad's Karrada district, damaging a house but causing no injuries, police said. One officer speculated the target was the Technology University a short distance away.

A U.S. patrol came under small arms fire late Sunday in the capital's Kamal Jumblatt Square. There were no casualties and the U.S. troops drove away immediately without shooting back.

Also Sunday, Iraq's interim foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said he expected the Iraqi government to meet a U.N. Security Council deadline of Dec. 15 for submitting a timetable for a new Iraqi constitution and national elections.

"However, those timetables depend on the security situation, and if the security deteriorates, we will not be able to adhere to such commitments," Zebari said after a meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio.

A new constitution would enable Iraqis to govern themselves and hasten the day when American and other coalition forces could leave the country in the hands of a stable and democratically elected administration.

The United States and its coalition partners consider adoption of the new constitution and national elections as key steps in the reestablishment of a sovereign Iraq.

However, the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council has not decided how to chose the delegates to a constitutional convention that will write the document. Leaders of the majority Shiite Muslim community want the delegates chosen in a national election, something U.S. officials believe would take too long.

Other proposals have included the Governing Council selecting delegates from a list of nominees submitted by regional and local leaders.

In Tikrit, a U.S. official said Sunday that an American major general was aboard a military helicopter that flew with the Black Hawk that crashed there last week, killing six soldiers. The Black Hawk was apparently shot down by insurgents.

The helicopter carrying the general, whom the military refused to identify, landed safely, according to Maj. Josslyn Aberle, spokeswoman of the 4th Infantry Division.

The Black Hawk helicopter, however, burst into flames Friday and plummeted into a grassy field on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, military officials said, citing witnesses. Two of the dead were from the Department of the Army headquarters at the Pentagon, the military said.

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