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Military: Arrests may reduce anti-coalition attacks

Saddam warned against foreign jihadists

An Iraqi cleans up an area where a deadly car bomb went off Wednesday in Baqubah.
An Iraqi cleans up an area where a deadly car bomb went off Wednesday in Baqubah.

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Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Coalition forces Wednesday seized four nephews of Iraqi fugitive Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who is the highest-ranking member of Saddam Hussein's deposed regime still at large. Al-Douri is believed to be behind many of the insurgent attacks in Iraq.

"The four men are suspected of providing hiding places and transportation for their uncle," U.S. Central Command said in a news release.

Al-Douri was vice chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council and is No. 6 on the list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis. The United States has posted a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture.

Coalition forces are trying to close the net on al-Douri. An operation in Mosul over the weekend grabbed four brothers suspected of distributing funds for him.

Al-Douri's four nephews were captured in Samarra, 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Saddam's ancestral homeland of Tikrit.

Military sources said the Army's 720th Military Police Battalion took three of the nephews into custody in its first Samarra raid, then captured a fourth in a second sweep -- based on information from the first operation.

U.S. soldiers have also captured Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, the Baath party regional chairman for the Karbala governorate, a Shiite Muslim region, and No. 54 on the list, coalition officials said.

"With the capture of No. 54, we have taken another significant step in reducing anti-coalition resistance," said U.S. Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt. "He was an enabler for many of the resistance attacks on Iraqis as well as U.S. and coalition forces."

Sirhan was caught Sunday in the central Iraqi town of Ramadi by a joint operation with special operations forces and soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, officials said.

It's unclear whether anyone will collect his $1 million bounty. Thirteen on the U.S. list remain at large. The others have been killed or captured.

The arrests come as troops and Iraqi police continue to defend themselves against insurgent ambushes. The coalition said 497 U.S. troops have died since the war began in March, with 343 killed in combat. The latest death was from "nonhostile" circumstances Tuesday night in the northern city of Mosul.

Wednesday was another bloody day in the Sunni Triangle, the turbulent anti-U.S. hotbed north and west of Baghdad.

Eight suspected insurgents that were killed near Samarra were part of a large group that fired automatic weapons at U.S. soldiers on patrol, U.S. military officials said.

Members of the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment fought back, killing the eight and wounding another. The attackers got into vehicles and tried to escape. The patrol pursued them. Two of the cars were destroyed and four other cars were stopped. Twenty-six people were captured.

Two dead in convoy attack

Insurgents killed two drivers in a convoy operated by a U.S. civilian contractor Wednesday south of Tikrit in north-central Iraq, military sources said.

The convoy was operated by Kellogg, Brown & Root, which supplies the food services to 4th Infantry Division forces, sources said. The firm is a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., which Vice President Dick Cheney formerly led.

The drivers were not Iraqis, sources said, but their nationalities were not released.

Insurgents opened fire on the convoy with small arms, sources said. A military unit was traveling with the convoy, and troops from the 1st Brigade responded to a call for help.

U.S.: Saddam order warned against jihadists

U.S. officials said Wednesday that a document found when Saddam was captured warned supporters to be wary of cooperating with foreign jihadists.

The directive, which appears to have been written after Saddam was ousted in April, advises his supporters not to get too close to Islamic jihadists coming into Iraq from other countries, officials said.

The document would seem to contradict the assertion by some Bush administration officials about possible close cooperation between Saddam's government and al Qaeda. But U.S. officials warned against making too much of the new evidence. (Full story)

Suicide car bombing kills 5

A car bombing at an Iraqi police station in Baqubah killed five people and wounded at least 29 others Wednesday, Kimmitt said.

Two civilians, a police officer and two members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps were among the dead, he said.

An initial investigation indicated an improvised explosive device of artillery round grenades was placed in small car near the station, Kimmitt said.

Nine Iraqi police and two members of the defense corps were among the wounded, he said. The coalition suffered no casualties.

Police said the car bomber taped his foot to the gas pedal so there was no way to stop the vehicle.

U.S. troops found two more improvised explosive devices nearby and disarmed them, Kimmitt said.

Last week, a man on a bicycle packed with explosives blew himself up in front of a Baqubah mosque during Friday prayers, killing four people and wounding dozens.

Other developments

• In northern Iraq, dozens of leading Baathists denounced the party and declared their support for the coalition. More than 50 leaders met in the Ash Shurah city hall, south of Mosul.

• The U.N. Security Council will hold a closed-door meeting Monday in New York with members of the U.S.-appointed Iraq Governing Council, said Heraldo Muņoz, Chile's ambassador to the United Nations and president of the Security Council for January. Governing Council members also are set to sit down that day with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and senior representatives of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

• In a political transition for Iraq, the United States has been adjusting its plan for a caucus-elected assembly to address concerns of Iraqis -- in particular those of a prominent Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Bush administration officials said Tuesday. One official said the United States is working on a "hybrid plan" in which direct elections would be held in Baghdad and surrounding towns, an area dominated by Shiites, while other areas of the country would have caucuses. Sistani has called for direct elections. The United States has said creating an electoral infrastructure would be impossible before the June 30 deadline to hand back political control to the Iraqis.

CNN's David Ensor, Karl Penhaul, Ram Ramgopal and Alphonso Van Marsh contributed to this report.

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