U.S. military officials say they have captured another member of Saddam Hussein's inner circle. Meanwhile, Shiite Muslims in Iraq were busy Friday celebrating their new-found religious freedom.
Iraqi Kurds near the northern city of Mosul handed over another one of the 55 most wanted former officials from the now deposed regime of Saddam Hussein.
U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told reporters at Central Command headquarters in Qatar that former Baath Party official Samir Abd al-Aziz al-Najim is now in the custody of coalition troops. "From all those that we have access to, we seek information," he said. "Some are more cooperative than others. Some provide useful information that leads to the arrest of regime leaders. In some cases we are led to sites that may have suspicious activity."
The arrest comes one day after the apprehension of one of Saddam Hussein's half brothers in Baghdad.
General Brooks says there was some fighting north of Baghdad Friday between coalition forces and Iraqi paramilitary fighters. He says eight Iraqi vehicles were destroyed, and more than 30 Iraqi fighters taken prisoner.
General Brooks also confirmed that coalition forces are now working with Iraqis near the northern town of Kirkuk to assess what appears to be a mass grave. "Those graves have to be examined, before we can tell exactly what the circumstances are, how long they may have been there," said General Brooks. "There are concerns that it may be people from the [local] population in that area. Who has responsibility for that can only be determined after we determine who is, in fact, in those gravesites."
On a more positive note, Shiite Muslims throughout Iraq provided visible demonstrations Friday that a new era of religious tolerance may be dawning.
VOA Correspondent Laurie Kassman provided this account outside a mosque in a predominantly Shiite section of Baghdad: "I am standing here in front of one of the main mosques of the section of the city formerly known as Saddam City," said Laurie Kassman. "It is predominantly Shiite, and today, this Friday, is the first time since 1998 that these Muslims have been allowed to pray outside this mosque. There are throngs of Shiite Muslims here, tens of thousands, on their prayer mats in front of the mosque, for the firs time since 1998."
Further south, in the central Iraqi city of Najaf, VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu watched as tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims took part in a religious pilgrimage that had been outlawed for nearly three decades by Saddam Hussein: "Observing the colorful procession, 25-year-old Haider Nomman, a Shiite Muslim, says the gathering is a sight that he thought he would never see in his lifetime," she reported. "He says when Saddam Hussein was in power, the government posted tanks along the highways to discourage Shiite Muslims from participating in the walk to Karbala. Many people who tried to defy the ban were never seen again. Saddam killed everyone who did this procedure previously. But now, this procedure is done freely, and the Iraqi people are very happy to do this."
Despite their newfound freedom, many Iraqis remain focused on the daily routine of coping without power and water. Iraqi engineers supported by U.S. troops say they hope to restart Baghdad's largest power plant on Saturday.