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Wave of Violence Hits Iraqi Towns as Rioters Show Support for Saddam Hussein - 2003-12-16

A wave of violence has hit the Iraqi towns where support for Saddam Hussein is highest. There have been several attacks on U.S. troops and a series of unruly demonstrations in support of the captured Iraqi leader.

In the most serious incident, the U.S. military says troops in the town of Samarra, north of Baghdad, killed 11 insurgents who tried to ambush their convoy. No U.S. soldiers were injured in that incident.

But U.S. military and journalists in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit say at least three soldiers were wounded, two of them seriously, when a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy.

Saddam was captured Saturday near Tikrit, where residents have since taken to the streets in large numbers to protest his arrest. Late Monday, Saddam supporters rioted in the flashpoint towns of Fallujah and Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

A military statement says U.S. troops were shot at repeatedly in Ramadi during a chaotic demonstration by about 700 people. They returned fire, killing two Iraqis and wounding two others. Two U.S. soldiers were also wounded in the incident.

In Fallujah, troops killed two more Iraqis after a rampaging crowd of angry Saddam supporters stormed the regional government offices and forced Iraqi police to flee.

U.S. troops have increased their patrols in the two towns in what they termed a show of force.

Military officials say they expected an upsurge in violence in the wake of Saddam Hussein's capture. They say the unrest seems to be a combination of popular sentiment in pro-Saddam towns and orchestrated attacks by insurgents. The violence has centered on the Ba'ath party strongholds north and west of Baghdad, an area known as the Sunni Triangle

Meanwhile, several anti-Saddam demonstrations have taken place outside of the Sunni Triangle.

In the largely Shi'ite southern city of Basra, hundreds of people took to the streets, calling for Saddam to be put to death. In Baghdad, about 200 anti-Saddam protesters echoed that call.

The crowd, mainly supporters of the country's largest Shi'ite political party, chanted that their one request is Saddam's execution. Iraqi Shi'ites make up about 60 percent of the population, and they were often brutally repressed under the old regime, which was dominated by Saddam's relatives and supporters from the Sunni Triangle.

Many of the protesters were out in support of the Shi'ite political party called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. But a speaker at the protest called for all segments of Iraqi society to unite in support of executing Saddam because, he said, the dictator repressed them all.

The protests and attacks come as Saddam himself is being interrogated at an undisclosed location. U.S. military sources say he is not cooperating, but they have been able to get some information about the insurgency both directly from him, and from the documents he had with him when he was captured. Military officials say the information has led to the arrest of at least one senior member of Saddam's inner circle, but they have not yet identified him.