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Reports: US May Soon Appoint Former Iraqi General to Head New Security Force - 2004-05-03


News reports indicate that U.S. officials will name a former senior officer in Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard to take command of a new Iraqi security force in the restive city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad. Former Iraqi General Mohammed Latif is expected to be appointed as the senior Iraqi commander, while another former Iraqi general, Jassem Mohammed Salah, will have a subordinate role.

In the meantime, militiamen loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, attacked a U.S. base south of Baghdad Monday, near the holy city of Najaf, with mortars and gunfire. U.S. forces returned fire. An Iraqi policeman was reported killed and several civilians wounded during the attack. The base formerly housed Spanish and Latin American troops, which have since left Iraq. Moqtada al-Sadr is wanted for the murder last year of a rival pro-U.S. cleric.

In Baghdad Monday, insurgents killed a U.S. soldier and wounded at least two others, after attacking their position with small arms fire. The soldiers were protecting a cache of weapons that had been discovered the night before.

An American civilian who was kidnapped more than three weeks ago, 43 year old truck driver Thomas Hamill, is said to be in good health, despite a bullet wound to one arm. Mr. Hamill escaped his captors Sunday, from a house north of Baghdad and then came across a U.S. military patrol.

An American military spokesman in Baghdad says Mr. Hamill wanted to make sure that his identity was well-known as he approached the U.S. patrol. "He was obviously relieved once he realized that we were Americans. He kept yelling, "I am an American, I am an American, I am an American POW. It was obvious that he was unarmed, so we did not have our weapons trained on him. He had his hands in the air, waving his shirt around. Once he got close up, we immediately recognized him," he said.

Mr. Hamill was kidnapped April 9, after his convoy was ambushed near Baghdad. Four co-workers were also abducted and later turned up dead. A U.S. soldier taken hostage at the same time is still missing. Mr. Hamill is a Mississippi dairy farmer, who took the job in Iraq to pay off debt, following his wife's heart surgery.

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