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Hussein was near ... or maybe not

Army spokesmen contradict each other on reports of Hussein sightings. Meanwhile, three more U.S. soldiers die in attacks.

By wire services
Published October 14, 2003

U.S. Army spokesmen issued conflicting statements Monday about where Saddam Hussein is believed to have been hiding recently.

Meanwhile, fresh attacks by resistance forces across central Iraq killed three American soldiers and wounded five.

In the northern city of Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, a spokeswoman for the Army's 4th Infantry Division said recent intelligence reports indicate Hussein might have been spotted in the region.

Maj. Josslyn Aberle emphasized the report "could have suggested that he was traveling in our task force area of operations," which stretches across a 750-mile arc north of Baghdad. Maj. Troy Smith, executive officer of the 4th Infantry's 1st Battalion, had said earlier, "We have clear indications that Saddam was here recently."

Asked about that comment, Aberle said: "Maj. Smith spoke out of turn."

Also Monday, occupation officials said several suspects have been arrested in the suicide car bombing in Baghdad on Sunday and revised the death toll to eight.

"There are some people in detention," said a spokesman for the occupation authority, Charles Heatly, who would not elaborate.

Lt. Col. George Krivo said the dead include four Iraqi police officers assigned to protect government sites and two civilians.

The other two, he said, were in cars when the bomb exploded. One was the bomber. Investigators are trying to determine if the other was a bomber "or just a bystander who was caught up in this tragic event," Krivo said.

The bombing at the Baghdad Hotel, where some Iraqi government officials and U.S. contractors live, was the second car bomb attack in four days to strike the capital.

Outside the hotel on Monday, Iraqi police armed with AK-47s and U.S. tanks kept visitors from entering the complex, although the busy commercial street in front of the hotel reopened to traffic.

Throughout the city, security measures were strengthened in the aftermath of the bombing and a similar suicide attack Thursday against the Sadr City police station, where eight people died.

The report of arrests in connection with the Baghdad Hotel bombing was the first public announcement of detentions tied to any of the eight car bomb attacks in Iraq that have killed more than 135 people, mostly Iraqis, since early August. Six exploded in Baghdad, and an estimated 100 people were killed in late August when a car bomb detonated outside a Shiite Muslim shrine in Najaf.

The insurgents' attacks on U.S. occupation forces averaged 22 a day in the past week, the U.S. military reported Monday. 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 on 4th Infantry Division troops late Sunday and Monday took place in Tikrit, 90 miles north of Baghdad, and north and east of the Tigris River city, according to the U.S. command:

At 7:45 p.m. Sunday, a division soldier was killed and one 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. A soldier was killed and two were wounded.

Two hours later in Tikrit, attackers struck a Bradley on patrol with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing a soldier and wounding two.

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 an attacker, the division said.

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 the Iraqi governor of Diyala province, Abdullah Shahad Jaburi, was slightly wounded with two bodyguards and a bystander when his car drove past a roadside bomb 60 miles northeast of Baghdad.

A military spokesman said it was unclear whether Jaburi was the target, but Iraqi police were investigating it as an assassination attempt.

Six months after toppling the Baathist regime, the U.S.-led coalition mostly blames pro-Hussein diehards for the low-level conflict, which is most intense in Tikrit and other parts of the "Sunni triangle." Hussein's Baath Party drew its strongest support in the 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 Hussein's Fedayeen Saddam militia and his most loyal supporters are apparently financing and organizing the attacks.

- Information from the Washington Post, Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and New York Times was used in this report.

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