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Leader of Republican Guard Surrenders as U.S. Increases Patrols

May 18, 2003|John Hendren | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The No. 10 most-wanted Iraqi official surrendered Saturday, as U.S. military officials launched half a dozen overnight raids and stationed soldiers at gas stations in a high-profile campaign to battle lawlessness on the streets.

Gen. Kamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan Tikriti, who as secretary-general was the top leader of the elite Republican Guard military units, surrendered to U.S. forces in Baghdad, defense officials said. The arrest of Tikriti, a cousin of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the "queen of clubs" card in the Army's most-wanted deck, came after an expanded cadre of U.S. troops acting as police went on 400 patrols and raided six sites. Soldiers arrested 129 people, including three "mafia-style" crime bosses who dealt in stolen cars and drugs, Army officials said.

Amid rising complaints of crime, trucks ferrying well-armed U.S. soldiers through the city have become increasingly visible in a capital where gunshots are heard day and night and where the streets are filled with mostly men because women feel unsafe.

Safety problems have delayed the exodus of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which has been in the region since September and had been expected to leave within the next two weeks, Army officials said. An advance group of soldiers from the 1st Armored Division are being trained to take over the 3rd Infantry's peacekeeping duties.

Crime and chaos in the capital have threatened to undermine support for the U.S.-led toppling of Hussein, but Maj. Gen. Buford Blount and Maj. Gen. William Webster, both of the 3rd Infantry, told reporters Saturday they were doubling night patrols and making substantial progress in restoring order.

Webster noted troops are grappling with issues never anticipated in the Pentagon's Iraq reconstruction plan.

"We did not expect the entire armed forces of Iraq to leave all of their equipment ... and put on civilian clothes when we conducted our initial planning," Webster said. "We did not expect all of the police forces to go home and stay home."

Public safety issues are among the reasons the Pentagon's provisional authority is expected to continue running Iraq for months, rather than weeks, delaying the transfer of power to Iraqi leaders.

"It's my understanding ... that the provisional authority of the coalition will be extended for some period of time," said Buck Walters, the retired U.S. Army general in charge of South Central Iraq, one of the four U.S. oversight regions. "There were early notions that perhaps we should move to an interim Iraqi government within a matter of weeks. I think the understanding now is that given the instability, particularly in Baghdad, it's going to be necessary to maintain the stability that's provided by the coalition for a while longer."

An official at the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which is shepherding the rebuilding of an Iraqi government, denied that there had been any change in plans. Coalition leaders had said only that a process would be in place to organize a government by June, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"That's where we are today," the official said. "There has been no change in the schedule."

Some 7,000 Iraqi police officers, a fraction of the Baghdad force, have reported back to work in the capital. But few have the weapons, uniforms and cars they need to do their jobs, and some of those who do are busy recovering stolen police vehicles. Yet Blount said the Army expects to see the number of working police stations in the city increase from two to 32 in the next month.

"We're trying to rebuild a viable Iraqi police department," Blount said.

Until then, securing the capital is up to U.S. soldiers, who confiscate up to 200 weapons a day at roadblocks, Blount said. Among those being arrested are criminals released along with political prisoners in the waning days of Hussein's regime, he said.

Over the last two weeks, U.S. Army soldiers have also appeared at gas stations throughout Baghdad, where commuters start lining up around the block at closing time to get gas the next day and fights are frequent. The Army also plans to triple the amount of fuel being pumped at half a dozen stations by keeping them open 18 hours a day.

In a nation rich with crude oil, Army officials say Iraq can supply only about 35% percent of its gasoline needs and must import the rest because of the country's neglected and damaged infrastructure.

In many parts of Iraq outside of Baghdad, conditions are much improved, although problems persist. In the Hillah region south of Baghdad, appointed governor Iskandar Witwit was speaking from his office in Babil (the former Babylon) when the lights went dark and the air-conditioning hummed to a stop. He said he has been told that UNICEF and other groups would bring food, blankets and other goods within days, "but I have not seen them."

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