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Saddam's deputy prime minister in custody

U.S. helicopters fly over the dome of a mosque in the center of Mosul on Thursday.
U.S. helicopters fly over the dome of a mosque in the center of Mosul on Thursday.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister in the regime of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, is in U.S. custody, CNN has confirmed.

Aziz, who was often the public face of the regime on the international stage, was No. 43 on the list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis and was the "eight of spades" in the deck of cards being circulated by coalition troops.

U.S. Central Command has not disclosed any details of Aziz's apprehension. But various U.S. officials have told CNN that Aziz turned himself in.

An intermediary approached U.S. officials Wednesday, indicating that Aziz was interested in surrendering, U.S. officials told CNN. The surrender took place late Thursday, the officials said.

Aziz -- described by one U.S. official as "pretty well wired" -- may have knowledge about the fate of top Iraqi leaders, including Saddam Hussein, a U.S. official told CNN. While it is considered unlikely that he would know the location of weapons of mass destruction, he "may be able to confirm their existence," the official said.

Two other U.S. officials said Aziz may have information about Iraqi financial resources and complexes used by regime officials.

The officials said it would likely be some time before any decision is made on Aziz's legal status.

On the eve of war, Aziz denounced reports that he had either been shot or had asked for political asylum. Earlier, Aziz said he would never go into exile and "would prefer to die" rather than "go to Guantanamo" as a U.S. prisoner of war.

Before Aziz's apprehension, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said at least seven members of the 55 most-wanted members of Saddam's regime are in coalition custody.

The progress in the roundup, according to military officials, is credited to extensive cooperation from liberated Iraqis. Marine Capt. Stuart Upton said, "The fact that so many local Iraqis are helping us capture members of Saddam's regime is an indication that Iraqis more and more believe that a free Iraq is here to stay."

Upon returning to the White House from a trip to Ohio, President Bush responded with a wave and thumbs-up to reporters' queries about Aziz's capture, but he made no comment.

Iraq's reconstruction may be 'faster' than thought

The head of the U.S.-led reconstruction effort in Iraq said Thursday the process of rebuilding the country after Saddam's ouster "will go faster than people think."

"This is a tough job, and it's very difficult to take people out of a darkness and lead them into light," said Jay Garner, the retired Army lieutenant general who leads the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. "Once they have been standing in light long enough, their eyes will adjust."

And Maj. Gen. Tim Cross, the top British official in the reconstruction effort, said the humanitarian and reconstruction problems are not as bad as originally feared.

"I'm not saying the problems aren't serious," Cross said. "But this is not a humanitarian crisis in the sense that you have in Rwanda and the Balkans and Macedonia."

Garner said "the governmental process" will be in place by the end of next week.

Garner and his team met Thursday with 30 Iraqis that officials said represented a cross section of Baghdad. One aide described the Iraqis as "technocrats" who operate the city's infrastructure.

"It is very important that people start back to work, especially those in public service," Garner said. (Garner profile)

Garner said that Iraqis would run the ministries but that the coalition has appointed coordinators to make sure they have the facilities and equipment needed to do their jobs.

Other developments

• Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of ground forces in Iraq, plans to issue a proclamation reminding Iraqi politicians that coalition forces are the sole authority in the country until a new government is put in place, U.S. military sources told CNN. The proclamation is part of an effort to ensure Iraqi politicians don't attempt to fill a power vacuum left by the ouster of Saddam's regime. (Full story)

• U.S. Marines from the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, attached to Task Force Tarawa, are patrolling the Iraqi-Iranian border along the length of the Wasit Province east of Kut. The patrols are designed to keep Iranian-backed dissidents from coming into Iraq. The Marines are under orders to search and interview all people attempting to enter or leave Iraq through Iran. The Marines hope to locate and detain "all former regime officials, third-country nationals and insurgents," according to a U.S. Central Command statement.

• The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Thursday to extend the U.N.'s authority over a portion of the "oil-for-food" program in Iraq until June 3. The program was halted March 17 as war in Iraq loomed. Before the war, 60 percent of Iraqis were dependent on the program. The extension is not a rollover of the program, which is already scheduled to end June 3, but allows the U.N. to select priority humanitarian goods from the programs' contracts until the program ends.

• U.S. troops operating in northern Iraq discovered a number of Turkish troops this week that had snuck across the border into Iraq, according to Pentagon officials. It's unclear what the Turkish troops were doing in Iraq. The U.S. troops escorted the troops back to the Iraqi-Turkish border the following day without incident, a Pentagon official said.

• Home videos of Saddam show fleeting glimpses into the private life of the deposed Iraqi dictator and his first wife, Sajida. The four tapes show scenes of Saddam's private life in the late 1980s. CNN obtained the video from an Iraqi who says he took it from the house of Saddam's first wife. (Full story)

• Russia shifted its position slightly Thursday, following France in supporting a partial, temporary lifting of U.N. sanctions against Iraq. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Thursday the U.N. Security Council is considering the possibility of suspending the sanctions temporarily "on goods that may be used for humanitarian problems in Iraq." Russia remains opposed to any automatic lifting of sanctions, which the United States has proposed. Russia first wants international inspectors to return to Iraq to certify whether the country is free of weapons of mass destruction. (Full story)

• A mass grave unearthed near the northern city of Mosul in Kurdish-controlled Iraq could yield clues to the whereabouts of the remains of some of the thousands of Iranian prisoners of war who disappeared during or after the Iran-Iraq War that ended in 1988. The remains of about 300 people have been removed from the site. Left in the bottom of the pit were boots, bones and parts of blood-stained uniforms.

• U.S. authorities filed the first criminal charges related to the looting of Iraqi antiquities after the fall of Saddam's government. Federal prosecutors said Benjamin James Johnson, 27 -- who was in Iraq as an engineer for Fox News Channel -- was charged in a criminal complaint with smuggling 12 Iraqi paintings and 40 Iraqi bonds into the United States. (Full story)

CNN Correspondents John King, Jane Arraf, Dana Bash, Jill Dougherty, Nic Robertson and Barbara Starr and Producer Terry Frieden contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.


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