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Top Hussein aide said to be in custody

Times Staff Writers

An Arab satellite news channel reported that a man suspected of being Izzat Ibrahim, who tops Iraq’s most wanted list, was captured Wednesday by Iraqi soldiers in the northern part of the country.

Al Arabiya channel said the suspect was caught during a raid in the Hamrin mountains that straddle Salahuddin, Diyala and Tamim provinces and added that Iraqi officials were conducting DNA tests to confirm his identity.

The U.S. military said it had no information on the raid, and one officer cautioned that there had been false alarms about the alleged capture or death of Ibrahim in 2004 and 2005.

“At this point, we can say that he is not in coalition custody and we have no reports that he was captured by Iraqi security forces either,” the U.S. military said in a statement.

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Iraq’s national security advisor, Mowaffak Rubaie, said he could not confirm that Ibrahim had been captured.

Rubaie told Al Arabiya that the suspect had been brought to Baghdad for DNA testing.

An Iraqi army official said the arrest took place in the early evening and the detainee bore a resemblance to the red-headed Ibrahim, who had a reputation for ruthlessness and is known as “the iceman” for his early years selling ice on the streets of Baghdad.

Ibrahim, who served as Saddam Hussein’s vice president and deputy chairman of the Baath Party’s Revolutionary Command Council, is believed to head an armed wing of the Baath Party in Iraq. He reportedly has leukemia.

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The United States ranked Ibrahim No. 6 on its most-wanted list after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. He was dubbed the king of clubs in the military-produced card deck of top fugitives.

In July 2006, the Iraqi government named him No. 1 on its list of 41 most wanted, with a $10-million bounty on his head.

In other matters Wednesday, a U.S. soldier was killed by gunfire in east Baghdad, which has been shaken by fighting between the U.S. Army and elements of Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, the military said.

At least 4,047 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003, according to the independent website icasualties.org.

U.S. Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III called on Sadr to rein in his followers after days of costly fighting in Sadr City, in east Baghdad.

“We certainly hope Sadr will choose the road of peace and responsibility,” Austin, the No. 2 U.S. military commander in Iraq, said at his first news conference since his arrival in January.

The general made a point of distinguishing between the mainstream Mahdi Army members and other so-called rogue fighters the Americans label special groups. The U.S. military believes the latter are funded by Iran.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had blamed the Mahdi Army for violence in southern Iraq and in Baghdad on a visit Sunday to Iraq.

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U.S. and Iraqi forces have been edging into Sadr City to erect a cement wall to partition the area. Militiamen based in the neighborhood regularly fire rockets and mortar shells at the Green Zone, the fortress-like compound where Iraqi government offices and the U.S. Embassy are located.

Since late Tuesday, clashes between U.S. forces and the Shiite militiamen have spread into Husseiniya, on Baghdad’s northern outskirts.

U.S. soldiers came under rocket-propelled-grenade and small arms fire Tuesday night while recovering a Bradley fighting vehicle that was stuck in the mud there, said Lt. Col. Steven Stover, a military spokesman.

Six suspected militants were killed in the fighting, he said by e-mail.

Iraqi police said sporadic exchanges continued into the morning Wednesday, killing at least four Iraqis and injuring eight. They did not specify whether the casualties were militiamen or civilians caught in the crossfire.

The U.S. military said Wednesday that it killed 15 other suspected militants in separate exchanges late Tuesday in Shiite militia strongholds.

A teacher living in Husseiniya said the fighting had claimed the lives of civilians, including a blacksmith and his son. She said residents were afraid of the bombs the Mahdi Army had planted in the roads.

The Shiite militia has adapted to daily attacks by U.S. helicopters and drones that fire missiles at suspected fighters, said one Sadr City resident. Militiamen used to travel in groups as large as 10. Now they are moving in packs of four or five and sticking to alleyways, he said. Fighters are coming in from other neighborhoods and provinces, he said. Another resident in Sadr City said that houses had been set up as combat medical centers to treat fighters.

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In the northern city of Mosul, a suicide bomber detonated explosives in a currency exchange and a car bomb exploded when police arrived. The coordinated attack killed one person besides the suicide bomber and injured nine people, said Brig. Gen. Khalid Abdul-Sattar.

The U.S. military increased the death toll from Tuesday’s suicide bombing in Diyala province to 18 -- 11 civilians and seven police officers. The Iraqi Interior Ministry, whose figures conflicted with those from the United States, said eight officers were killed and 17 people were injured.

A female bomber carried out the attack at a police station in Jalawla, 80 miles northeast of Baghdad, the second bombing by a woman in the province in as many days.

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ned.parker@latimes.com

Times staff writers Raheem Salman, Caesar Ahmed and Said Rifai in Baghdad contributed to this report.


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