Soldiers kill three suspected members of al-Qaida-linked group

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- American soldiers killed three suspected members of an al-Qaida-linked Islamic militant group during a firefight in the northern city of Mosul, the U.S. military said Monday. Two U.S. soldiers were wounded.

The interrogation of Saddam Hussein yielded more information with the deposed leader acknowledging sending $40 billion abroad, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council said in published remarks. The Iraqi official said Saddam had provided the names of people who know where the money is.

The operation against the suspected Ansar al-Islam militants was carried out by soldiers of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division who came under small arms fire while searching homes on Sunday. The house harboring the assailants caught fire during the shootout, and Iraqi firefighters extinguished the blaze.

After the fight, U.S. troops seized two rocket-propelled grenade launchers, eight grenades and two assault rifles, the military said in a statement. The injured soldiers were in stable condition.

Six people in the house -- a man, two women and three children -- were turned over to Iraqi police.

Most Ansar al-Islam fighters were believed to have fled their stronghold in northern Iraq before U.S. forces invaded in March. U.S. and Kurdish forces destroyed the group's main base early in the war.

Tactics of the group, believed to have ties to Osama bin Laden's terror network, have included suicide bombs, car bombs, assassinations and raids on militiamen and politicians of the secular Kurdish government in the north.

In Monday's report about Saddam, the U.S.-appointed council estimated that the Iraqi dictator seized $40 billion while in power. The council is now searching for that amount deposited in Switzerland, Japan, Germany and other countries, council member Iyad Allawi told the London-based Arab newspapers Al-Hayat and Asharq al-Awsat.

"Saddam has started to give information on money that has been looted from Iraq and deposited abroad," Allawi told Asharq al-Awsat. "Investigation is now concentrated on his relationship with terrorist organizations and on the money paid to elements outside Iraq."

Allawi said Saddam, who has been questioned by U.S. interrogators since his capture this month, gave names of people who know where the money is deposited and also know the location of arms and ammunition depots used by insurgents in attacks against the coalition forces and the Governing Council.

"We have asked international legal and specialized companies to follow up the money he has deposited in Switzerland, Germany, Japan and other countries which is estimated at around $40 billion under fictitious companies' names," Allawi told Al-Hayat.

Allawi spoke to Lebanese journalists during a visit to Beirut last week.

The U.S. State Department was helping search for the Saddam money, spokesman Adam Ereli said Monday in Washington, adding that some funds had already been found in Syrian bank accounts.

"The money that was stolen from the Iraqi people by the former regime will be returned to the Iraqi people," Ereli said at a briefing.

In Baghdad, Ahmed al-Bayak, another member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, said he was informed by council members that Saddam had started to talk about names of people inside Iraq who were carrying out attacks against U.S. forces.

"But nothing about funds," said al-Bayak.

In Sofia, Bulgaria, government officials said they were committed to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq despite the deaths of five Bulgarian soldiers in a coordinated assault by insurgents in the southern city of Karbala on Saturday.

"Keeping our military contingent in Iraq is a matter of principle," Prime Minister Simeon Saxcoburggotski said.

Coalition officials said they arrested five Iraqi suspects in the Karbala attacks -- a blitz of four suicide car bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars that blasted two coalition military bases and the Iraqi governor's office. At least 19 people died, including the Bulgarians, two Thai soldiers, six Iraqi police officers and six Iraqi civilians.

The attacks were apparently an attempt to undermine the resolve of U.S. allies soldiering in Iraq.

Like Bulgaria, Thailand said it was committed to Iraq, and will send an additional 30 troops to provide security for its other troops. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Thailand would fulfill its one-year commitment to the United States and would "not run away from a friend."

In other developments:

-- Japan pledged to forgive "the vast majority" of Iraq's nearly $8 billion debt if others do the same, a critical boost to the U.S. campaign for debt relief. China said it would consider the idea, boosting the U.S. campaign to ease Baghdad's financial burden.

-- The first batch of officers who will head the new, coalition-approved Iraqi army were sent to neighboring Jordan for an 11-week training course. Some 560 cadets flew from Baghdad to Amman in 10 U.S. military transport planes. The 560 cadets, all volunteers, are mostly junior officers who served in Saddam's old army. Some are fighters from Kurdish groups that opposed Saddam.

-- In the northern city of Kirkuk, police said they arrested four foreigners Sunday night who could be connected with attacks in that city. Police chief Saad al-Ubaidi said two Egyptians, an Afghan and an Iranian, all with fake passports, were handed over to U.S. troops.

The military has said some foreigners have infiltrated from neighboring countries, though most guerrillas in Iraq are believed to be Saddam loyalists or militant Muslims.

-- A U.S. soldier died of an "undetermined illness" on Sunday at a logistical support base near Beiji, north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

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