Baltimore Sun

Bremer calls Iraqi freedom progress

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqis should measure their progress by the freedoms they enjoy, not the services they don't have, the top U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq said yesterday.

L. Paul Bremer told a news conference that while Iraqis complain of unsafe streets and shortages of power, they must also realize that the fall of Saddam Hussein has made their lives better.

"Freedom matters," Bremer said. "I think it's important to ... look beyond the shootouts and blackouts and remind ourselves of a range of rights that Iraqis enjoy today because of the coalition's military victory."

Iraqi frustration over power outages and fuel shortages has boiled over in recent days. Temperatures creeping above 120 degrees have exacerbated the problems.

Thousands of people rioted last weekend in the southern city of Basra to protest fuel, water and electricity shortages. Crowds have also demonstrated in Baghdad and elsewhere demanding jobs they lost after Hussein's government fell in early April.

Bremer said the U.S.-led coalition planned to install more generators and restore refineries, and he repeated promises that Iraqis would gradually regain control of their security. But he said Iraqis should not forget how much the country has changed.

"Iraqis are free to stand up and denounce Saddam Hussein," he said. "I might add they are also free to stand up and denounce Jerry Bremer, as I judge from your reports they do quite often." Jerry is Bremer's nickname.

Bremer also rejected criticism that frequent attacks on U.S. forces - mostly in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" north and west of Baghdad - indicate the coalition is struggling to keep control of the country.

"I don't accept the definition of a country in chaos. Most of this country is at peace," Bremer said. "We have a problem with attacks against coalition forces in a small area of the country by a small group of bitter-end people who are resisting the new Iraq."

Near Tikrit, American soldiers rounded up 14 members of a family said to be a pillar of support for Hussein in raids yesterday, including a Republican Guard officer and one of the deposed dictator's bodyguards.

West of Baghdad, guerrillas attacked an American convoy with three roadside bombs, killing one U.S. soldier and wounding two.

On the outskirts of Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, U.S. soldiers captured 14 men in a three-hour operation. All were members of the same family, which was a key supporter of Hussein's regime, said Lt. Col. Steve Russell.

"They were trying to support the remnants of the former regime by organizing attacks, through funding and by trying to hide former regime members," he said.

Russell said the Republican Guard officer was a divisional chief of staff. He and the bodyguard were on a U.S. blacklist of Iraqis considered major catches but not as important as the top 55 most-wanted figures.

Tikrit has been a center of the hunt for Hussein, who the military believes is moving every three to four hours.

The Army had been watching the family for weeks after collecting intelligence indicating it had been involved in recent attacks on soldiers, Russell said. Coalition forces moved in yesterday when they thought they could catch the most people.

About 250 soldiers surrounded and searched 20 homes, Russell said, carrying out a safe, photographs and computers.

North of Baghdad, a dark cloud blotted out the sun as flames shot 200 feet into the air from a burning oil pipeline. Iraqi firefighters later doused the blaze with chemicals.

It was unclear whether the fire, 12 miles north of Baghdad in an area known as Taji, was an accident or the work of saboteurs. Guerrillas have hit many pipelines to slow U.S. reconstruction efforts and delay the resumption of Iraq's oil exports.

Two M1 Abrams tanks waited and three soldiers crouched in firing positions along a highway next to the pipeline, which blazed from three holes. They fired warning shots to keep journalists away, and initially chased off Iraqi firefighters.

"They were very hostile," said Lt. Hasannein Mohammed of the fire department.

An AP photographer saw another pipeline blaze northwest near the town of Haditha. The fire at a junction box burned out of control, and neither Iraqi nor American authorities were at the scene.

The U.S. soldier killed yesterday morning was riding in a Humvee in Ramadi, a site of frequent attacks on American troops 60 miles west of Baghdad. A military spokesman said the convoy was hit by three roadside bombs wired to explode one after another. Two soldiers were wounded.

The death brought to 57 the number of U.S. troops killed in action since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat over.

Another American soldier was found dead in his bunk yesterday at a Ramadi base; no cause of death was reported. In Mosul, in the far north of the country, the military reported a soldier died when his Humvee collided with a taxi.

The commander of American forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, said the attacks on Americans are coming from a variety of sources.

"Clearly I think it's the former regime loyalists and the foreign fighters-slash-terrorists. Those are my two top priorities right now," he said.