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U.S. special forces capture Saddam’s half brother in Baghdad

U.S. special forces Thursday captured a half brother of Saddam Hussein who, according to one American commander, has “extensive knowledge” of the toppled regime’s inner workings. In Baghdad, U.S. troops helped defuse a riot outside a bank that was being robbed.

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, in a briefing at U.S. Central Command, said Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, a top adviser to Saddam as well as his half brother, was captured alone in Baghdad. No casualties were sustained by the special forces or the U.S. Marines who provided support.

Brooks declined to give details about the operation, but said it resulted from information provided by Iraqis. The U.S.-led coalition is “relentlessly pursuing the scattered members of a fractured regime,” Brooks said.

Barzan Hasan was head of Iraq’s secret police, the Mukhabarat, and later served as Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations agencies based in Geneva, Switzerland, where he reportedly ran Iraq’s intelligence operations in Europe.

Another of Saddam’s three half brothers, Watban Ibrahim Hasan, was captured previously; he once served as Iraq’s interior minister. Both are considered likely to have information about any weapons of mass destruction developed by Saddam’s regime.

The third half brother, Sab’awi Ibrahim Hasan, reportedly took refuge in Syria.

The riot in Baghdad broke out Thursday outside a branch of the al-Rashid bank after robbers blew a hole in the vault and dropped children through the opening to bring out cash. Hearing that the robbery was under way, hundreds of people converged on the bank, demanding that the thieves give them the money.

Guns were fired, and a U.S. Army unit arrived, arresting a dozen men and youths inside the bank while many in the crowd chanted their approval. The U.S. soldiers recovered about $4 million in U.S. currency, which they took away in burlap bags for safekeeping.

In three cities in northern Iraq, including Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, gunbattles and ethnic feuding were complicating reconstruction efforts.

U.S. officials said members of Saddam’s clan in Tikrit twice attacked people from outlying villages coming to warehouses in search of food. Each time Marines intervened to disarm the attackers and separate the sides, said Lt. Col. Freddie Blish of Marine Wing Support Group 37.

In Mosul, the largest city in the north, U.S. commanders tried to ease anti-American anger after two days of confrontations involving U.S. Marines. Local hospital officials said 14 people died Tuesday, while three more were shot dead Wednesday.

The U.S. Central Command said a gunbattle Tuesday killed about seven Iraqis, some of whom were trying to storm a U.S. position.

Brooks said the violence Wednesday involved an exchange of fire between Marines and some suspected bank robbers. But residents said some of those hit by bullets were doing no wrong, including a police officer trying to maintain order.

“They are killing us and no one’s talking about it,” Zahra Yassin said at a hospital with her wounded son. “We want Saddam back. At least there was security.”

In Kirkuk, the second-largest city in the north, Arab families complained that they have been forced out their homes by a group of Kurds claiming ownership in the largely Kurdish city.

The new Kurdish occupants took over in the confusion immediately after the April 10 collapse of Saddam’s authority in Kirkuk. They claim the land was theirs before Saddam evicted them in the 1980s, but Arabs claim the Kurds have been taking the law into their own hands.

“If this humiliation against us continues, we are going to defend our properties and our homes ourselves,” said Seyed Aqel Musawi, a civic leader in one of the Arab neighborhoods where homes have been seized.

In Baghdad, U.S. troops and Iraqi police broadened efforts to restore law and order. A Marine unit went on an overnight patrol in one of the capital’s roughest neighborhoods and exchanged fire at one point with suspected looters, one of whom died of his wounds Thursday.

At Baghdad’s police academy, motorists formed a line outside the front gate after word spread that some recently stolen cars had been recovered by the newly re-formed police force.

The top war commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, said 2,200 civilians in Baghdad have volunteered to serve as police officers.

“The looting goes down every day and I think you will continue to see it go down because the Iraqis are now stepping up and controlling the problems for themselves,” Franks said while visiting Kuwait City, the main center coordinating humanitarian assistance for Iraq.

Some of the worst looting targeted Iraq’s top museums and the National Library, ravaging irreplaceable Babylonian, Sumerian and Assyrian collections that chronicled ancient civilizations. Koichiro Matsuura, director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said Thursday that the U.N. should impose a temporary embargo on Iraqi cultural objects to curtail the sale of any of the pillaged items.

At a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, the seven U.S. prisoners of war freed in Iraq earlier this week were examined Thursday by military doctors, who said they were in good health.

Five of the freed prisoners belonged to the same unit ambushed in southern Iraq as rescued POW Jessica Lynch, who returned to the United States last weekend. The other two were Apache helicopter pilots downed in central Iraq.

President Bush urged the United Nations to lift sanctions that have choked Iraq’s economy for nearly 13 years. Debate on the issue could be divisive; some Security Council members may insist on getting detailed assurances about the U.N.’s future role in Iraq before agreeing to lift the sanctions.

The European Union, at a summit Thursday in Greece, said the U.N. must play a central role in rebuilding Iraq. Bush administration officials have suggested the U.N. could take the lead in humanitarian efforts, but they want the United States and Britain to control the political and economic reconstruction of Iraq.

The EU statement signaled a desire to find common ground after months of acrimony over the U.S.-led war. Britain and Spain supported the war; France and Germany opposed it.

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