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US forces stage massive raid in Iraq
( 2003-12-03 10:33) (Agencies)

U.S. troops arrested at least 20 insurgents in a raid north of the capital while workers began demolishing gigantic bronze busts of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad on Tuesday both moves aimed at stamping out loyalty to Iraq's ousted regime.

Iraqi police said a senior former member of Saddam's elite Republican Guard was among those captured in Hawija, 155 miles north of Baghdad. However, the U.S. troops failed to catch the target of the raid Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, considered a key planner of attacks against U.S. troops.

U.S. helicopters fly over the area as workers dismantle one of the four giant bronze busts of Saddam Hussein that have long dominated Baghdad's skyline, Tuesday.  [AFP]
Also in the north, insurgents kept up attacks against American-led forces, with a soldier of the 4th Infantry Division killed in a roadside explosion in Samarra, the scene of deadly weekend battles between Americans and Iraqis.

Meanwhile, relatives of U.S. troops visiting Iraq pressed their agenda to meet with leaders of the occupation authority, hoping to voice their opposition to the U.S.-led occupation.

One mother held back tears while looking at U.S. soldiers guarding the entrance of the Habbaniyah military base in Baghdad.

"They are so young. This is not for them. ... They look just like my boy," said Annabelle Valencia, whose daughter, 24, and son, 22, are both based in Iraq.

Elsewhere in the capital, workers using a construction crane started dismantling the 13-foot busts of Saddam from his former Republican Palace, now the headquarters of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

It was unclear how long the work would take.

Lt. Col. William MacDonald, spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division, said the raids in Hawija were aimed at capturing former regime members financing guerrilla attacks in the region.

Iraqi police said U.S. troops had captured more than 100 people, including a senior former member of Saddam's elite Republican Guard. Six Iraqis were wounded in the raid, but it wasn't immediately clear if they were all insurgents.

The U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade detained 20 suspected insurgents, but not al-Douri, the top Iraqi fugitive after Saddam. Earlier, a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council had said al-Douri had been caught.

"We have no reports that we have captured or killed al-Douri," MacDonald said.

MacDonald said the confusion stemmed from local officials' statements that linked the raids to the hunt for al-Douri.

"The key objective was to get the subversive groups that have been conducting anti-coalition activities," he said. "I can't say we are on the trail of al-Douri."

U.S. officials, who two weeks ago posted a $10 million bounty for al-Douri, have pointed to him as a coordinator of incessant attacks on American forces in Iraq. They suspect he could also be working with the al-Qaida-linked militant group Ansar al-Islam.

The 10 members of the delegation of troops' relatives, who arrived in Iraq this week, said they want to see the reality faced by both U.S. troops and Iraqis.

The group, sponsored by U.S.-based non-governmental organizations that oppose the occupation, includes two wives of soldiers based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and four veterans of the Vietnam and Gulf wars two of them with children on duty in Iraq.

Fernando Suarez del Solar, 48, who heads the delegation, said being in Iraq made him feel "closer" to his son, who was killed earlier this year. Marine Lance Cpl. Jesus Suarez del Solar, 20, died in March during the invasion of Iraq when he stepped on an unexploded cluster bomb or a land mine.

During their weeklong visit, the delegates hope to meet representatives of the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council, human rights organizations, and women's organizations, Suarez said.

They will also visit hospitals, schools, and U.S. military bases, part of the trip sponsored by Global Exchange and the International Occupation Watch Center.

"Other people have warned us that it is not safe to travel to Iraq, but we wanted to show that ordinary Americans like peace," Suarez said.

Michael Lopercio, who has a son serving with the 82nd Airborne Division in the restive city of Fallujah said he was "concerned about if we were making the right kind of progress" in Iraq.

"Iraqis are grateful Saddam has been ousted, but they say their lives are much worse than before with no jobs and no medicine in hospitals," Lopercio said.

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