U.S. vows to remove Baath officials in Iraq
Central Command: American troops fire on looters in Mosul
BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraq's U.S. administrators will "aggressively move" to identify and remove former officials of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from office and are working to restore security in Baghdad, the civilian authority's new chief said Thursday.
"Shortly, I will issue an order on measures to extirpate Baathists and Baathism from Iraq forever," L. Paul Bremer told reporters in Baghdad. "We have and will aggressively move to seek to identify these people and remove them from office." (Full story)
But Bremer, who assumed office Monday, said that such action would be difficult while U.S. officials are trying to restore services such as power, water and health care.
"In some cases, we have found, people who have offered to work with us have turned out to be members of the Baath Party," he said. "Those people have been put out of office when we found that out."
In line with that policy, several hundred troops from the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division took almost 200 Iraqis into custody early Thursday in a raid on a village near Tikrit, a stronghold of Saddam loyalists, U.S. military officials confirmed.
U.S. military officials said they believe they have captured members of the Republican Guard and Baath Party loyalists as well as perhaps one official on U.S. Central Command's most-wanted list of Iraqis.
Bremer came to Iraq as part of a wide-ranging reorganization of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. He was placed in charge of the effort over the previous administrator, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner.
U.S. troops are cracking down on looting in the Iraqi capital and have arrested about 300 criminals released from Iraqi prisons before the U.S.-led invasion in March, Bremer said.
Bremer, a former State Department counterterrorism official, acknowledged "a serious law and order problem" remains in Baghdad, but he said news accounts have mistakenly left an impression that the city is practically lawless.
"This is not a country in anarchy," he said. "People are going about their business. They are going about their lives."
In the northern city of Mosul, soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division opened fire early Thursday on a group of looters, according to Central Command.
Looters fired on the U.S. troops, and then "soldiers returned fire in accordance with the rules of engagement, wounding one of the looters," a Central Command statement said. Four other looters escaped, and there were no U.S. casualties, according to Central Command.
Bremer said he will meet with a group of Iraqi leaders Friday to jump-start the process of establishing an Iraqi provisional government.
"I expect we will have a good open discussion on that tomorrow," he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday that the United States would consider initially suspending economic sanctions against Iraq, although lifting them entirely would be "the best way."
"As part of the discussion and negotiation process, we will look at the idea of initially suspending sanctions," Powell said at a news conference in Bulgaria, one of the stops on his weeklong trip to Europe and the Middle East. (Full story)
"The important thing is to be able to begin moving oil out of Iraq in due course in order to generate revenue for the Iraqi people."
A revised version of a U.S. draft resolution on Iraqi sanctions is expected to be distributed later Thursday. John Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said he hopes for a U.N. Security Council vote on the resolution some time next week.
"We will see what the argument is for suspending sanctions and see if that makes any sense, but our preference is to lift and that's why we put it in the resolution that way," Powell said.
Under the U.S.-sponsored plan, almost all sanctions would be lifted, and the United States and Great Britain would control the country for at least a year. Iraq's oil revenues would be put into a U.N.-monitored fund controlled by the United States and Britain.
Russia and France fear that ending the sanctions would effectively hand control of Iraq's immense oil reserves to the United States. They also have said U.N. inspection teams should resume their work in verifying Iraqi disarmament.
• A top Iraqi army officer and a Baath Party official of the ousted regime have surrendered to coalition custody in recent days, Central Command confirmed Thursday. Ibrahim Ahmad Abd Al-Sattar Muhammad Al-Tikriti is the former chief of staff of the Iraqi Armed Forces General Staff and Army. He is the jack of spades in the U.S. card deck with the most-wanted figures. Fadil Mahmud Gharib, a former Baath regional chairman, is also in custody. He is the three of hearts in the deck. (Gallery: Iraq most-wanted cards deck)
• A U.S. soldier was killed and two others received minor injuries in a traffic accident Wednesday in Kuwait, Central Command said. The soldier's identity has not been released yet.
• Thousands of Shiite Muslims gathered Thursday in central Baghdad to protest the U.S.-led administration in Iraq and called for a Shiite-dominated government in the country. Most of the protesters were from Al Hawza, a religious school in Najaf, one of the most holy sites for Shiites. They said they suffered the most under Saddam's regime, which favored Sunni Muslims and cracked down on Shiites. Shiites make up about 60 percent of the Iraqi population. (Full story)
• The head of an Iraqi forensic team said Wednesday he expects to find as many as 15,000 bodies buried at mass graves about 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of Baghdad. Hundreds of relatives of missing Iraqis gathered at the site in Mahawil, seeking to find out the fate of their loved ones. The forensic team has uncovered at least 1,500 bodies so far, identifying only a fraction of them. (Gallery: Images from Mahawil, On the Scene: Jane Arraf)
CNN Correspondent Jane Arraf and CNN Producers Liz Neisloss, Alina Gracheva and Vivian Paulsen contributed to this report.
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