Tuesday, May 27, 2003

BAGHDAD — The specter of Saddam Hussein resurfaced in Iraq yesterday, with U.S. forces suffering deadly attacks, pro-Saddam graffiti staining the capital and hooded Arab guerrillas vowing to avenge their fallen leader.

With the upsurge in anticoalition acts, residents of the Iraqi capital expressed fear that Saddam Hussein and his followers remain a threat.

Four U.S. soldiers died and six were injured in an ambush, a land-mine incident and accidents, a reminder that resistance to U.S. control flares up periodically and may be escalating.

One soldier was killed and three injured when their vehicle ran over a land mine or other unexploded ordnance on a highway leading to the Baghdad airport, U.S. Central Command said.

“The incident … appears to be a result of hostile action, though the specific circumstances of the incident are unconfirmed,” Agence France-Presse quoted the command as saying in a statement.

Earlier, the U.S. military reported the death of one soldier and the wounding of another in a 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment convoy that was ambushed by unidentified Iraqis near the town of Hadithah, about 120 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Another American soldier drowned after diving into an aqueduct south of the northern city of Kirkuk, and one was killed and two others injured after their vehicle collided with a tractor-trailer on a road northwest of Tallil.

Special coalition units in Baghdad yesterday arrested a man said by one of his neighbors to have been supplying weapons to the Fedayeen Saddam, the fiercely anti-American paramilitary.

The neighbor, Bara el Jibouri, 21, said police used megaphones to demand the man’s surrender after showing other neighbors pictures of him apparently shooting at U.S. aircraft. The man was released later yesterday, looking shaken and hardly able to walk, the neighbor said.

On Sunday, U.S. forces detained a brother-in-law of Saddam, identified as Mulhana Hamood Abdul Jabar, Reuters news agency reported. He was detained in Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown and former power base, and had more than $300,000, three AK-47 assault rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade.

Elsewhere in Baghdad yesterday, the base of a statue of Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, Saddam’s predecessor and Ba’ath Party leader, displayed freshly painted slogans. “Saddam will come back to you, you traitors,” read one. “No peace, no security without Saddam,” read another.

Near the Al Mahmoun mosque in another part of Baghdad, another slogan was spray-painted: “We will exact revenge for you, Saddam.”

The ousted leader is generally believed to be hiding in Baghdad. American military police and the reconstituted Iraqi police say they receive one reported sighting of Saddam in the city each day.

“I saw him go by in a taxi two days ago — wearing a headdress and a white beard,” one informant told U.S. military policemen and a reporter this week.

U.S. military police chief Col. Ted Spain said the policemen find these observations hard to believe and assume Saddam would at least wear sunglasses to hide his identity.

A senior officer in the now-disbanded Iraqi military intelligence, who requested anonymity, said yesterday he believes Saddam had several hide-outs comprising underground tunnels or bunkers in residential areas of Baghdad, with employees to meet his every need.

Many Iraqis refuse to believe that the United States, while capable of conquering Iraq in three weeks, cannot find Saddam and his sons after another six weeks. Some discern an American intent to protect Saddam — or to leave him as a bogeyman — who will stir up Iraqis’ fears and smooth their acceptance of the U.S. military presence.

“The whole Iraqi people is in a state of anxiety, not knowing what to believe, and that will remain unless Saddam and his family are arrested or shown to be dead,” said Omar al Alwani, a 23-year-old trader.

He and a group of young Iraqis were sipping sodas at the Al-Sa’ah restaurant in the Mansour neighborhood in western Baghdad, formerly a favorite haunt of leading Ba’ath Party officials and the scene of the coalition’s spectacular attempt to bomb Saddam and his family near the end of the war.

The coalition forces hit three houses next door, but Qusai, Saddam’s younger but more powerful son, narrowly escaped death, according to local residents.

One resident said Qusai emerged from the room where he was sleeping, looking dazed and brushing off debris from his clothes, before being driven away by his security entourage.

Since then Saddam’s clique has disappeared, apart from an audiotape in a voice reputed to be Saddam’s that urges Iraqis to resist coalition forces.

A leaflet was distributed around Baghdad last week that announced the formation of a new Ba’ath Party excluding Saddam Hussein.

Also, the Al Arabiya satellite television yesterday showed a group of predominantly Palestinian fighters in Iraq vowing to oust Americans. Three of them brandished pistols, their faces covered, and stood before a portrait of Saddam. They swore an oath to remove the U.S. presence from Iraq “in the name of Allah and the Islamic world.”

The reporter who interviewed the fighters said the unit is part of an Arab legion — comprising mainly Algerians, Moroccans and Egyptians — that lost the bulk of its several hundred fighters in clashes with coalition forces south of Baghdad and in a failed counterattack at the Baghdad airport during the war.

These fighters, the reporter said, trained with the Uday Hussein’s Fedayeen Saddam but operated independently.

Meanwhile at the Al-Sa’ah restaurant, the discussion over Saddam’s future continued. Four of the five men interviewed said his presence remains a threat.

“I am afraid of Saddam to the extent that I fear him even in my own bathroom,” said a man in his 40s wearing a brown jacket and tie. He requested his name not be used, and said he had been arrested 12 years ago for a comment he made disparaging Saddam.

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