BAGHDAD, IRAQ — BAGHDAD, Iraq - Saddam Hussein's defense minister quietly turned himself in yesterday morning in northern Iraq, ending weeks of delicate negotiations between U.S. commanders and his intermediaries.
Former Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmad gave himself up to U.S. Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, in Mosul shortly after 9 a.m.
Ahmad is listed as 27th on the Americans' list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis. He is the 38th to be taken into custody. Ahmad's face became known worldwide after he met U.S. generals in Iraq's formal surrender to the Persian Gulf war in 1991.
American officials hope Ahmad will be able to reveal Hussein's whereabouts. He was being interrogated last night at Baghdad International Airport, where many former high-ranking Iraqi officials are held.
"The curtain is closing in on their past," coalition spokesman Dan Senor said of Hussein's fallen regime.
Ahmad's detention came as U.S. troops fanned out across the Hussein stronghold known as the Sunni Triangle after a nearly nightlong battle against insurgents near Tikrit that left three U.S. soldiers dead.
At least 58 Iraqis were rounded up after U.S. forces were attacked near the banks of the Tigris River by bands of Hussein loyalists using rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and high-powered rifles.
Army Col. James Hickey, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, said the Iraqi fighters used "combat tactics 101" as they launched three attacks on U.S. forces within several minutes Thursday night.
U.S. troops, which had established a cordon around the area, mounted a fierce counterattack, reinforced by Apache helicopters and Bradley fighting vehicles as skirmishing continued until early morning.
"The enemy did not have a good night," Hickey said.
U.S. troops also seized a significant weapons cache when they later chased down a minivan outside Tikrit on the main highway south to Baghdad.
The weapons included 19 British-made MK-4 machine guns, five Egyptian semiautomatic short-barrel machine guns, 65 AK-47 assault rifles and 11,000 rounds of AK-47 ammunition, according to a military spokesman.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military was investigating another mistaken shooting by American soldiers who fired Thursday at a car of an Italian envoy, Pierre Cordone, killing his Iraqi interpreter. Cordone is in Iraq as a cultural attache looking into ways to rebuild the Iraqi National Museum after thousands of artifacts were looted.
The U.S. command says the driver of the car repeatedly ignored warnings from soldiers not to overtake an American military convoy. Military sources said the convoy attempted to block the sport utility vehicle from passing and sought to warn the driver before a soldier fired after it appeared the vehicle might ram the convoy.
U.S. troops have been particularly vigilant while riding in convoys because of roadside bombs and potential suicide bomb attacks.
In Mosul, the surrender of Iraq's former top military man ended speculation over whether U.S. troops would lose patience and go after Ahmad.
U.S. officials disputed the accounts of a Kurdish human-rights mediator, Dawood Bagistani, who told reporters in Mosul yesterday that Ahmad gave up only after U.S. officials promised to remove his face from the deck of cards and the wanted list.
Surrender would possibly shorten the length of his confinement and lessen chances of prosecution. He would have been the first high-profile figure of the Hussein regime to receive special treatment.
Ahmad was considered more a technical military general who carried out Hussein's orders for the country's defense than one who engineered atrocities against Iraqi people.
Former army commanders say Ahmad had a huge ego. He was seen often on Iraqi television plotting military strategy before the war at a long table headed by Hussein.
"The only condition was that he would be treated with respect and dignity while in our care," a spokesman for the 101st Airborne Division said.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing paper.