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Saddam hides in Tikrit, US troops wager
( 2003-10-14 10:12) (Agencies)

Saddam Hussein is believed to have been hiding out recently in Tikrit, influencing the anti-American insurgency, the U.S. military said Monday. Fresh attacks by resistance forces across central Iraq were reported to have killed three American soldiers and wounded five others.

"We have clear indication he has been here recently," Maj. Troy Smith, a deputy brigade commander, told reporters in Tikrit, the fugitive former president's hometown and now headquarters for the 4th Infantry Division. "He could be here right now," he said of Saddam.

The insurgents' attacks on U.S. occupation forces averaged 22 a day in the past week, the U.S. military reported Monday in Baghdad. That's an increase of several a day over the pace of some weeks earlier, and has resulted in American deaths at a rate of almost one every two days.

The attacks late Sunday and Monday, against 4th Infantry Division troops, took place in Tikrit and at locations north and east of here, according to the U.S. command:

_At 7:45 p.m. Sunday, one division soldier was killed and another wounded when their Bradley armored vehicle struck a mine near Beiji, 30 miles north of Tikrit.

_At 11:15 a.m. Monday, a division convoy traveling near Jalyula, in a desolate area 80 miles east of Tikrit, was ambushed with a makeshift roadside bomb and small-arms fire. One soldier was killed and two were wounded.

_Two hours later, in this Tigris River city 90 miles north of Baghdad, attackers struck a Bradley on patrol with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing one soldier and wounding two others.

In another clash typical of Iraq's low-intensity conflict, 101st Airborne Division troops in the northern city of Mosul came under rocket-propelled grenade fire Monday night and returned fire, killing one of their attackers, the division reported.

American forces aren't the only targets. Four British soldiers suffered minor wounds in a roadside explosion on the outskirts of the southern city of Basra on Monday, and police reported that the Iraqi governor of Diyala province was slightly wounded, along with two bodyguards and a bystander, when his car drove past a roadside bomb 60 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, officials of the American-led occupation said arrests were made in connection with Sunday's bombing in the heart of Baghdad, when an explosives-packed car detonated short of its target, a hotel housing Americans and officials of Iraq's interim ruling council. The blast killed eight people, including one or two suicide bombers, and wounded dozens. No details were given on the arrests.

Six months after toppling the Baathist regime, the U.S.-led coalition mostly blames pro-Saddam die-hards for the low-level conflict, which is most intense in Tikrit and other parts of the so-called "Sunni triangle." Saddam's Baath party drew its strongest support in this Sunni Muslim-dominated region north and west of Baghdad.

Iraqis say resisters probably also include others as well, men resentful of the foreign army's presence and perhaps seeking to avenge kinsmen's deaths at American hands. But the U.S. military says Saddam's Fedayeen militia and his most loyal supporters are apparently financing and organizing the attacks.

Smith, executive officer of the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade, said Saddam is believed to be exerting some control over anti-U.S. guerrilla attacks around Tikrit. If he isn't in Tikrit at the moment, he said, "at the least, he is maintaining a strong influence in the area."

He didn't elaborate on intelligence information leading the military to conclude Saddam has been in the Tikrit area, but he expressed confidence in the quality of the information. "Where else would he go to?" he said. "He has family and tribal roots here."

Some other key regime figures still at large could be in the Tikrit area, Smith said. Of the 55 Iraqis on the coalition's most wanted list, 38 are in custody, 14 are at large and three are either dead or thought to be dead.

Those still free "obviously have the money to pay the average poor Iraqi to shoot at coalition forces," Smith said.

In other developments:

_In Ankara, Turkey's military said that if Turkish peacekeepers are sent to Iraq they would be deployed in the center of the country. The possible deployment is under discussion between U.S. occupation authorities and Iraq's interim Governing Council, which in principle opposes a Turkish military presence in Iraq.

_The coalition delivered crateloads of new Iraqi dinars to Baghdad banks. The new banknotes minus the old currency's portraits of Saddam will be released into nationwide circulation Wednesday.

_The Iraqi Governing Council unveiled its 2004 budget, with projected spending of $13.5 billion, almost all of which would be covered by an anticipated $12 billion in oil revenues. In addition, Iraq's plans rely heavily on $20.3 billion in U.S. reconstruction aid proposed by the Bush administration.

_The U.S.-led coalition said it and Jordan are discussing the training of up to 40,000 new Iraqi police recruits in Jordan over the next 18 months. The Iraqi police force, rebuilt since the war, now numbers some 40,000 officers nationwide.

_Iraq's Central Criminal Court convicted a ship's captain and first mate, both Ukrainians, of trying to smuggle Iraqi diesel fuel out of the country in their tanker, the Navstar. They were sentenced to serve seven years in prison and pay fines of $2.4 million, equal to three times the fuel's value. Coalition naval forces intercepted the tanker Aug. 4.

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