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Rumsfeld: U.S. Gaining In Iraq

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday rejected the "widely held impression that regime loyalists are operating freely" in Iraq, and said large portions of the country are stable.

"The problem is real, but it is being dealt with in an orderly and forceful fashion by coalition forces," he said.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rumsfeld said the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which played a central role in capturing Baghdad in April, is beginning to withdraw from Iraq, and the entire unit will be back in the United States by September.

Rumsfeld said there are now 148,000 American troops in Iraq. He did not say whether the 3rd Infantry Division would be replaced by another U.S. unit, although he said he expects thousands of international soldiers to begin operating in Iraq by late summer or early fall.

In other developments:

  • Authorities arrested a suburban Chicago man on charges of serving as an unregistered agent of Saddam Hussein's government.
  • The U.S. military in Iraq says Saddam's former interior minister and a top member of his Baath party have both been arrested. They are the latest to be apprehended from the military's list of the 55 most wanted figures from the Saddam regime. One was captured. The other turned himself in. Thirty-four of the 55 are now in custody.
  • U.S. forces also have arrested Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, the Iraqi diplomat alleged by some Czech officials to have met with the lead Sept. 11 hijacker five months before the attack, officials said in Washington. Investigators have dismissed Czech accounts of an April 2001 meeting in Prague between suicide hijacker Mohammed Atta and al-Ani — the only suspected link between Saddam's government and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
  • The Bush administration is claiming that while some evidence of Iraq's attempt to buy uranium in Africa was flawed, it had other information pointing to a renewed nuclear program and attempts to fuel it with deals in Africa. Democrats are renewing calls for a public probe of weapons claims.
  • Nearly two months after dissolving Saddam's army, officials of the U.S.-led occupation said Wednesday that recruiting for a new force will begin next week. A 1,000-strong contingent will begin training in August and a further 12,000 by the end of the year. The number of trained recruits will reach 40,000 by the end of 2004.
  • BP, Shell and ChevronTexaco are among the first firms to win bids for Iraqi oil.
  • An Army report on the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company in Iraq says fatigue, bad communications and other difficulties arising in "the fog of war" all factored into the deaths of 11 and capture of six, including still hospitalized Pfc. Jessica Lynch.

    The (Portland) Oregonian said in Wednesday editions that families of fallen soldiers gave the newspaper a copy of the report, saying they're frustrated that no one likely will be disciplined.

    The newspaper said the unit's commander was exhausted and confused and inadvertently led the convoy into an Iraqi stronghold, a mistake compounded by jammed rifles, failed radio communications and a decision not to equip individual soldiers with grenades and anti-tank weapons.

    Initial reports incorrectly said Lynch emptied her rifle fighting off Iraqis before being captured, and that she had been shot and stabbed. Instead, she was severely injured in the crash of a U.S. Humvee.

    In his Senate testimony, Rumsfeld said the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade has already reached Kuwait and will be heading home this month. The 2nd Brigade will be home in August and the 1st Brigade will return in September, he said.

    He said each of the final two brigades to leave Iraq will have been in the Gulf region for 10 months by the time they depart.

    In the immediate aftermath of the toppling of the Saddam regime in April it was expected that the 3rd Infantry Division would go home by June.

    But they were kept longer because of a surge of anti-U.S. violence in Baghdad and elsewhere in central Iraq. That violence has killed at least 29 American troops since President Bush declared major combat operations over on May 1.

    In the latest incident, insurgents in Fallujah, a restive town west of Baghdad, fired two rocket-propelled grenades at American troops. The U.S. military and police in Fallujah said there were no injuries and no arrests made.

    The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite station reported a second skirmish in Falluja and a gunbattle in the town of Ramadi, but the U.S. military could confirm neither report.

    Attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq have been taking place virtually every day — seven soldiers were wounded and three Iraqis killed in violence late Monday and Tuesday that included grenade, mortar and homemade bomb attacks.

    U.S. defense officials have revised upward their count of Americans killed by hostile fire in Iraq since the war began in March to 143, a figure that approaches the 147 killed in the 1991 Gulf War. At least 212 Americans have died in Iraq since the conflict began.

    L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. official in Iraq, said Tuesday that the coalition would not rest until Saddam's fate was determined "His days in Iraq are finished," Bremer said.

    On Tuesday, U.S. soldiers raided a building in central Baghdad, following up on a claim by residents that say they thought they saw Saddam driving through the area on Monday, and say the ousted leader was met with cheering and gunfire by supporters.

    Bremer stood by Washington's assertion that the violence does not amount to a full-fledged guerrilla war.

    He blamed the attacks on remnants of Saddam's Baath party, former members of pro-Saddam militias and terrorists. He acknowledged that some of the attacks, like the fatal shooting of a U.S. soldier at Baghdad University on Sunday, showed "professionalism."

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