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U.S.: Finding Saddam key to Iraqi stability

By Kris Osborn
CNN Headline News

Undated file photo of Saddam Hussein.

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(CNN) -- Coalition forces continue to face uncoordinated, deadly resistance from scattered groups of armed Iraqis loyal to Saddam Hussein, according to U.S. Central Command.

Since President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1, at least 30 U.S. troops have been killed in hostile action.

U.S. military officials said efforts to bring order are hampered by the difficulty of distinguishing between friendly and hostile Iraqis.

"During the war, many Iraqi fighters attacking the coalition wore civilian clothes," said Maj. Rudi Steffi of Central Command. "We've been battling with this the whole way through."

As a result, Central Command officials said that coalition forces are sticking to strict rules of engagement, meaning they do not fire unless fired upon by others. If there's a question of friend or foe, Steffi said, the best way to make that determination is to take someone into custody.

"If coalition forces can take someone into custody without harming them, they will," Steffi said. "Once someone is in coalition hands, we then conduct a review process and seek to make a determination about whether the person is a friendly Iraqi, a nonthreatening Iraqi simply committing a crime or an Iraqi paramilitary fighter devoted to the former Iraqi regime."

U.S. military officials said the uncertainty about Saddam has a negative effect on Iraqis and efforts to rebuild the country.

One official said some Iraqis may hesitate to cooperate with the coalition out of fear the deposed leader could return and seek revenge.

"Until Saddam and his sons are captured, they will be able to inspire terror," the official said. "Dictators that are that violent and have been allowed to get away with it for so long cast a long and dark shadow."

One official said coalition forces are drawing heavily upon Iraqis in the search for Saddam.

"Any capture of Saddam Hussein could very well start with information coming from his friends and associates," the official said. "If he is in hiding, he must have money; he must have safe houses and someone to make food. If he is alive, he will turn up somewhere."

Coalition forces are conducting numerous missions in Iraq, according to U.S. military officials. Recent activities have included bringing in museum specialists to collect and return looted antiquities. Firefighters, water specialists and medical teams also have been brought in to help Iraqis.

"These efforts were all part of the plan from the beginning," said Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens. "The intention was to preserve as much of the Iraqi infrastructure as possible so as to allow follow-on agencies to conduct reconstruction efforts."

Nevertheless, the anti-U.S. sentiments expressed by some Iraqis are a cause for concern, one military official said.

"The reconstruction efforts still needed are significant," the official said. "Every day that passes, many Iraqis rely more and more on the leadership of some fundamentalist Shiite clerics in the south. The more time that goes by, the more coalition forces run the risk of being seen as occupiers."

Owens disputes the extent of such sentiment, saying, "There will always be people who do not want a fair and just government."

As for possible weapons of mass destruction, U.S. military officials reiterate Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's remarks that finding them may depend on the help of Iraqis.

The Bush administration cited the threat of Iraq's weapons program before launching an invasion of the country in March. Coalition officials have so far not found any weapons of mass destruction in the country.

One U.S. military official said, "Iraq is an ideal place to hide things. ... Particularly when it comes to that mountainous area near Iran, hiding weapons ... can be very easy."

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