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'Shiite Thug' snared



Published: Tue, April 22, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Up to 2 million Shiites are expected to participate in an annual pilgrimage.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- One of Saddam Hussein's most-feared lieutenants was in U.S. hands today, while hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslims crowded two holy cities in a fervent pilgrimage that had been banned for decades under Saddam.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said it has found ingredients and equipment that Iraq may have been using to make chemical weapons. And Jay Garner, the retired American general overseeing the rebuilding of Iraq, visited the northern Kurdish region.

Muhammad Hamza al-Zubaydi, who was captured Monday by the Iraqi opposition and turned over to American authorities for trial on war-crimes charges, is the highest-ranking figure on the U.S. military's most-wanted list to be caught so far.

Al-Zubaydi was known as Saddam's "Shiite Thug" for his role in Iraq's bloody suppression of the Shiite Muslim uprising of 1991. Tens of thousands of people died in the revolt. Iraqi opposition groups have also accused al-Zubaydi of the 1999 assassination of a top Shiite cleric.

A former prime minister, al-Zubaydi was No. 18 -- the queen of spades -- in the U.S. military's 55-card deck of most-wanted regime figures.

Brutal figure

Al-Zubaydi was considered one of the most brutal figures in the regime and was listed in a U.S. State Department report titled "Iraq: Crimes Against Humanity, Leaders as Executioners." A Shiite himself, he was once featured in an Iraqi videotape brutalizing Shiite dissidents.

"This is very significant -- he is one of the most hated men in the former regime," said Haider Ahmad, a spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, the leading exile group.

The INC said it arrested al-Zubaydi hiding out in Hillah, a town about 60 miles south of Baghdad.

Eight of the 55 most-wanted are now in custody. A ninth figure, Ali Hassan al-Majid -- known as "Chemical Ali" for his use of poison gas against Iraq's Kurds -- is believed to have been killed in an airstrike.

Pilgrimage under way

Shiites, meanwhile, streamed toward Najaf -- burial shrine of Imam Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed -- and Karbala, where Hussein, Mohammed's grandson, was martyred in the 7th century. Up to 2 million Shiites are expected to take part in the annual pilgrimage, which culminates on Thursday.

During Saddam's rule, the Shiites were forbidden to march. This year, they marched openly under black banners of mourning.

"We were prohibited from visiting these shrines for a long time by the Baath Party and their agents," Abed Ali Ghilan said in Karbala. "This year we thank God for ridding us of the dictator Saddam Hussein and for letting us visit these shrines."

Karbala was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pilgrims, waving black and green flags, chanting and beating their chests.

Men wore mostly white robes; women were cloaked head to toe in traditional black dress.

Two groups of 100 men in white robes slashed open their own heads with swords, splattering blood on those nearby. Waving the bloody blades toward the shrine and screaming with joy, some were taken away in cars for medical attention.

Water trucks were brought in to help the crowds endure the 90-degree heat and blazing sun. Roving watermen sprayed the masses to keep them cool.

The portrait of Saddam that used to hang on the main Imam Hussein shrine was gone, underlining the new sense of freedom enjoyed by Iraqi Shiites.

Weapons proof?

The latest reported discovery by U.S. weapons experts could help prove the existence of the weapons of mass destruction that President Bush cited as the reason for going the war.

The find was made several days ago with the help of an Iraqi scientist who claimed to have worked in Saddam's chemical weapons program.

U.S. military officials refused to name the scientist or identify the material, which had been buried in the ground. Many chemical weapons ingredients have nonmilitary purposes and officials cautioned that the findings, which are being analyzed, do not confirm the presence of chemical weapons.

According to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the scientist said the Iraqis set a warehouse on fire and destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment days before the war began March 20.

The scientist also said that several months before the war, he watched as Iraqi officials buried chemical precursors for weapons and other sensitive material to conceal and protect them.

Garner visits north

Also today, Garner, Iraq's civilian administrator, visited the Kurdish north on his second day of a tour around the country. He arrived in Baghdad on Monday to take up his duties.

Garner's helicopter landed under heavy guard in Sulaymaniyah, where he was met by a delegation from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the groups jockeying for power in postwar Iraq.

The United States increased its troop presence in the ethnically tense northern city of Mosul, reinforcing Special Forces and Marine units that had been struggling to restore order after the collapse of Saddam's regime touched off looting, arson and gunfire.

The 2nd Brigade of the Army's 101st Airborne Division rolled into Mosul early today from Baghdad, joining units of the Army's 4th Infantry Division that entered Iraq's third-largest city late Monday.

Mosul is divided between Arabs and Kurds. Residents of the city of 1.7 million stood on the streets watching silently as the soldiers arrived in Humvees and trucks.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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