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Latest Developments from Iraq - 2003-04-18


Turning to the latest on the war in Iraq - A newly released videotape raises more questions about the fate of Saddam Hussein. And a senior Baath party official on America’s list of most wanted Iraqis is now in U.S. custody. Robert Raffaele has the details.

Abu Dhabi television has broadcast a videotape of what it says is Saddam Hussein greeting supporters on the streets of Baghdad, April 9th.

That was the same day U.S. tanks rolled into central Baghdad. The Penatgon said it is too early to confirm the validity of that tape.

The Arab network also broadcast an audio taped speech it claims Saddam recorded that day, urging Iraqis to defend their country.

The U.S. also says it now has a fourth top member of Saddam’s regime in custody, after he was turned over by Iraqi Kurds. He is Samir al-Aziz al-Najim, a regional leader of the ruling Baath Party. His face was among those of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis depicted on a deck of playing cards given to U.S. forces. U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks says the arrest could provide valuable information.

BRIG. GEN. VINCENT BROOKS/U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND
“Well, we know that he certainly has an insight on how the Baath Party central committee worked. He had the Baghdad district and was certainly an insider on that. There are some indications he might have also been posted to the north to take over in the north for some of the military operations, but we don’t have confirmation on that.”

In Baghdad, thousands of Shiite Muslims staged a massive protest against the U.S presence, following Friday prayers. The demonstration came after many Muslim clerics told worshippers to speak out against what they called the U.S. ‘occupation’ of Iraq, a claim the Bush administration has repeatedly denied. U.S. military officials called the demonstrations a sign that Iraq is becoming free. VOA’s Laurie Kassman attended prayers at one mosque in the section formerly known as Saddam City.

BY PHONE: LAURIE KASSMAN, VOICE OF AMERICA
“It is predominately Shia, and today, this Friday, is the first time since 1998 that these Muslims have been allowed to pray outside of the mosque. There are throngs of Shia Muslims here, tens of thousands, who have come to pray outside the mosque, on their prayer mats in front of the mosque, for the first time since 1998. It is a very orderly crowd, very disciplined. There are guards standing around, but it is very peaceful.”

Also on Friday, U.S. Marines arrested five suspected Iraqi Republican Guards, after confiscating three AK-47’s from them. The arrests came as U.S. military officials reported an Army unit captured 30 Iraqi paramilitary fighters, and destroyed several vehicles, during another encounter north of Baghdad. Meanwhile, a U.S. spokesman says coalition forces are now helping Iraqi technicians restore power to much of Baghdad. In addition to coalition bombs, a fire at the city’s electrical station has caused major problems.

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