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Saddam said useful in U.S. interrogation

The United States has used information gained during the questioning of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to help battle the insurgency, a senior military official told The Associated Press on Sunday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The United States has used information gained during interrogations of Saddam Hussein to help round up insurgents and identify false leads, a senior military official said Sunday.

American military officials believe about 14 cells of Saddam loyalists are operating in Iraq’s capital, said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. There are about 250 to 300 “hard core” insurgents in those cells, the official said.

Documents found with the ousted Iraqi president and information gleaned during interrogations have helped American troops disrupt those cells and track their finances, the official said. He would not say what information Saddam might have given his American interrogators.

U.S. troops captured Saddam on Dec. 13. Officials have said previously that the documents were helpful, but Sunday’s statement was the first indication that Saddam’s interrogations are bearing fruit.

Baghdad bases to be cut
On the military front, commanders of the Army’s 1st Armored Division said they plan to cut the number of bases in Baghdad from 26 to eight by the time the 1st Cavalry Division takes over responsibility for the city in mid-April.

The pullback is part of a strategy to allow Iraq’s fledgling police and civil defense forces to take over responsibility for security in Baghdad, said Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the 1st Armored Division’s commander.

“There’s a point of diminishing consent for what we’re doing,” said Dempsey’s second-in-command, Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling. “Iraqis like the security, they appreciate the partnership, but I don’t think many of them want us there all the time. They want their security forces taking over.”

About 8,000 Iraqi police now work in Baghdad, along with about 6,000 members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. U.S. Army officials calculate that Baghdad needs about 19,000 police.

Seeking clues about the insurgency
Foreign fighters continue to come into Iraq, most of them from Syria, military officials said. Two Yemenis and an Egyptian died in a shootout with American troops in Baghdad last week, for example.

U.S. officials in Baghdad said al-Qaida and an affiliate, the radical Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam, are active in Iraq. But the officials would not say what evidence they have to prove that.

North of Baghdad, suicide bombers struck the offices of two rival Kurdish parties in near-simultaneous attacks Sunday as hundreds of Iraqis gathered in Irbil to celebrate a Muslim holiday. At least 57 people were killed and more than 235 were wounded, officials said.

Nobody claimed responsibility, but Ansar al-Islam operates in the Kurdish region.

Dempsey said he did not expect more attacks on Americans during the division changes in Baghdad, which begin this week and is to end April 15. The 1st Cavalry already has sent some intelligence specialists and other units to Baghdad, and troops from the two divisions will spend at least two weeks working together before the 1st Armored Division troops leave, he said.

“I don’t think the enemy we’re fighting is capable of the kind of surge you’re thinking about,” Dempsey told reporters at the headquarters of the U.S.-led civilian administration in Iraq. “I don’t think they’re as organized as they were a month ago. In fact, I know they’re not.”

The troop rotations in Baghdad are part of a huge shift in American forces in Iraq as about 130,000 troops who have been in Iraq for a year are replaced by about 110,000 fresh troops.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, on a brief visit to Iraq to visit troops, discussed the rotation plans with Army commanders Sunday. He said he was confident the military was up to the immense logistical challenge.

After landing early Sunday near Baghdad, Wolfowitz said, “Its exciting to be back.” On a visit three months earlier, the hotel stay in which he was staying was attacked.