Arrests Turn Up Heat on Iraqi Fugitive

Times Staff Writer

U.S. soldiers have arrested the wife and daughter of Izzat Ibrahim, a former Iraqi general who is believed to have been helping loyalists to deposed President Saddam Hussein regroup and coordinating intensified attacks against the U.S. led-coalition, Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno said Wednesday.

The two women, along with the son of Ibrahim's doctor, were detained by soldiers with the Army's 4th Infantry Division late Tuesday in a raid on a house near Samarra and were being held for interrogation.

"We believe that they might have some information on where he is traveling, how he is moving," Odierno said.

Ibrahim, the most-wanted former regime official after Hussein, is being sought dead or alive and is the subject of a $10-million reward.

The arrests were part of the coalition's intensified military campaign against insurgents, particularly here in the heart of the so-called Sunni Triangle, where support for Hussein remains strongest.

"We're getting some reports of people coming back in here and trying to reorganize," said Odierno, who is in charge of the violent region north of Baghdad that surrounds Tikrit, Hussein's tribal power base.

U.S. officials are uncertain whether Ibrahim is the ringleader of attackers in the area or a financier, but commanders said informers have suggested that he remained active among insurgents who have eluded U.S. forces since President Bush declared major combat over on May 1.

"He certainly is involved. He's been involved from the beginning," Odierno said, though he acknowledged that he had no proof that Ibrahim was behind recent attacks. "He's a close associate [of Hussein].... He has the ability to control and potentially provide money or direction."

Pentagon officials acknowledge that intelligence has been spotty, in part because the United States had few operatives in Iraq before the war began. Despite substantial electronic surveillance -- by satellites, spy planes and other means -- the military hasn't found Hussein, which critics say is because of the paucity of intelligence sources.

Having found Hussein elusive, officials have focused on Ibrahim. The former Iraqi army leader initially was No. 6 on the list but moved up after the capture or killing of other top regime members, including Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusai, who died in a July shootout.

One reason U.S. commanders believe that insurgent leaders have concentrated near Tikrit is that numerous high-profile figures have been found together recently. About four weeks ago, soldiers with the 4th Infantry's 1st Brigade arrested more than 20 members of what they described as the most important pro-Hussein families in the region, who were meeting in Al Auja, Hussein's birthplace.

"We still don't know why we caught so many in one place," said Col. James Hickey, the brigade's commander. "We think they were planning something."

Unspecified intelligence suggests that Ibrahim had recently been in the house raided Tuesday, commanders said. That information was "very fresh" and "extremely accurate," Hickey said.

"We got exactly who we were looking for. It went quite well," he added. "The fact that his family members were there [as well as] key staff members is very, very interesting."

Their presence reinforced commanders' confidence that they were getting closer to fugitives such as Ibrahim and Hussein, although Odierno said he could no longer repeat a recent assertion that Hussein was probably in the Tikrit area.

The arrests Tuesday prompted a protest by more than 150 residents of the Abu Delaf neighborhood that was broken up "mostly" by Iraqi police, a U.S. military official said. The protesters insisted that those arrested had nothing to do with anti-coalition attacks.

Despite drawing the ire of a community that Odierno said had produced more regime leaders than any other, commanders said they have gleaned valuable information from family members.

"We've forced the withdrawal of quite a few senior members of the regime," said Hickey, who commanded the raid Tuesday. "The upshot is, if you want to know what's going on with these guys, you've got to get inside their families."

Odierno's Task Force Iron Horse has intensified its raids, angering residents by using 500-pound "smart" bombs to raze homes allegedly used by insurgents. The escalating force came in response to fewer but more serious guerrilla attacks here during the Ramadan period, including the downing of a Black Hawk helicopter near Tikrit that killed six U.S. soldiers.

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