Mizban Khadr Hadi is No. 23 on the U.S.’s list of wanted Iraqi officials.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – U.S. forces captured Iraq’s swashbuckling former interior minister, while a top-level Baath party official surrendered, the latest arrests from a list of 55 most-wanted fugitives from Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime.

Thirty-four of those on the list have now been detained. But despite a huge bounty and a feverish search, the hunt is still missing its biggest quarry: Saddam and his two sons.

Mizban Khadr Hadi, a high-ranking member of the Baath party regional command and Mahmud Diab al-Ahmed, the former interior minister, were taken into custody Tuesday, the U.S. Central Command said Wednesday.

Hadi, No. 23 on the U.S. most-wanted list, surrendered in Baghdad. Al-Ahmed, No. 29, was captured, Centcom said in a statement, which provided no further details. The U.S. Army’s V Corps had reported that Hadi was arrested in early May, but that information was incorrect, said Maj. Brad Lowell, a Central Command spokesman.

Just before the war, al-Ahmed – who headed the police and other security services as interior minister – also was named commander of one of four military regions for the defense of Iraq. He held a news conference just after the war began, wearing a bulletproof vest with a large knife tucked inside, and brandishing an assault rifle.

“Some of you may be wondering why I am dressed like this,” he said at the time. “Well, because we in Iraq have pledged not to relinquish our guns until the day we are victorious.”

The arrests were the first reported since June 17, when Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, Saddam’s top aide, surrendered after informants tipped U.S. forces to his whereabouts in Tikrit.

U.S. soldiers raided a building in central Baghdad on Tuesday after people claimed they saw Saddam driving through the area a day earlier, to cheers from supporters. As Americans swept the area, a crowd sang, “With our souls and our blood we sacrifice ourselves for you, Saddam.”

The last verified sighting of Saddam came April 9 in the Azamiyah neighborhood of northeastern Baghdad as the capital fell to U.S. troops.

American officials are offering $25 million for information leading to the arrest of Saddam, and $15 million for each of his sons.

U.S. officials have acknowledged that Saddam’s uncertain fate has helped fuel an insurgency that has hampered efforts to re-establish security and get vital services like electricity and water back on line. Saddam loyalists have been blamed for sabotaging the nation’s infrastructure, as well as frequent attacks on U.S. soldiers.

On Wednesday, insurgents fired two rocket-propelled grenades at American troops in Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad. The U.S. military said there were no injuries and no arrests. Iraqi police Lt. Iyad Abed said one grenade exploded in the air and the second landed outside a building occupied by U.S. troops.

The military said it had also seized several large weapons caches at checkpoints around the country.

The largest – including 400 to 500 rocket-propelled grenades – was found in a vehicle Tuesday on a road between Ramadi and Asad, west of the capital. The military said it had conducted more than 2,000 patrols and arrested 213 suspects since Tuesday. Most of those detained were suspected of common crimes, though some were wanted for murder.

Seven U.S. servicemen were wounded in several attacks in and around Baghdad on Tuesday.

An American soldier attached to the 101st Airborne Division died Monday from what the military said was a non-combat gunshot wound near Balad, 55 miles north of the capital. The soldier’s name was not made public. Soldiers at an air base near Balad said on condition of anonymity that the soldier had taken his own life.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-led occupation government announced it would begin recruiting members of a new Iraqi army on July 19. Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, in charge of training the new army, said the coalition hoped to have 1,000 soldiers training by August, and 12,000 by year’s end. They hope to train 40,000 by an unspecified date in 2004.

Establishing an Iraqi army and police is a main goal of the U.S.-led provisional government, which hopes the Iraqi forces will be able to take over some of the nation’s security.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday that the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, which played a central role in capturing Baghdad, is beginning to withdraw from Iraq and will be back in the United States by September. He did not say whether the soldiers would be replaced by another unit, although he said he expects thousands of international soldiers to begin operating in Iraq by early fall.

A contingent of 104 troops from Norway, a NATO member, arrived in the area of the southern city of Basra on Wednesday to help with the rebuilding effort. Some 2,000 Polish troops are also headed to Iraq to help keep order.

AP-ES-07-09-03 1436EDT

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