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American commander says Saddam holds `blanket of fear' over Iraqis

Updated:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ A ``blanket of fear'' will hang over the Iraqi people until Saddam Hussein is captured or killed, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq said Friday.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, speaking with Associated Press Television News, said finding Saddam would help end the guerrilla resistance that has killed 60 Americans since May 1.

``I believe that as long as Saddam is out there, and we can't positively either kill him or capture him, there will remain a blanket of fear over the Iraqi people,'' Sanchez said. ``If we can accomplish that task then it will be a significant turning point in the belief ... of the Iraqi people that that regime will never come back.''

In a Shiite Muslim slum in Baghdad, meanwhile, an imam equated the American occupation with Saddam's brutal repression of the Shiite majority. An estimated 25,000 people jammed the mosque and the surrounding area for Friday prayers.

The imam's sermon was heavy with references to an incident Wednesday in which a Black Hawk helicopter appeared to have purposely blown down a Shiite religious banner from a communications tower, sparking a melee in which one Iraqi was killed and four were injured.

The Americans said the dead man fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a Humvee and was killed when soldiers returned fire.

Abdul al-Hadi al-Daraji, preaching at the Ahil al-Bait mosque in Sadr City, stopped short of calling for an uprising against Americans but said their occupation was driven by greed for Iraqi oil.

``The Iraqi people should be aware of the fact that America is not a charity organization that works to liberate the Arabs and the Muslims. American needs Iraq for its resources,'' he said.

An American commander apologized to the people of Sadr City, saying he was investigating the banner incident and would punish anyone found to have violated military policies.

Also Friday, the Army evacuated two Apache helicopter crew members to a military hospital in Germany after they were injured in an accident just north of Tikrit, 4th Infantry Division spokesman Lt. Col. Bill MacDonald said.

The helicopter's systems failed during a maintenance flight and the craft fell to the ground, he said. Both crew members were in serious but stable condition.

MacDonald also said two U.S. soldiers were wounded when insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at their convoy just outside Balad, north of Baghdad. The soldiers were in stable condition.

Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division conducted four raids overnight and detained 16 people, MacDonald said. In the raids, soldiers seized 69 missiles and 30 122mm BM21 rockets, he said.

Also Friday, the Army began training an Iraqi militia force to take up civil defense duties and pave the way for the eventual departure of American forces.

Fifty young men chosen by tribal leaders started three weeks of intensive training in Tikrit at one of Saddam's main palaces, now headquarters for the 4th Infantry Division.

Lt. Col. Steve Russell said similar training programs would soon begin elsewhere.

``Our goal is that you will take our place and take over the security of your own people,'' Russell told recruits and tribal leaders. ``We are training you to be the leaders of a larger force that we will be creating in the coming months.''

The militia will initially work with U.S. soldiers in joint patrols, but eventually will be responsible for defending key infrastructure and government buildings, Russell said.

The founding members of the militia will be paid $125 a month _ more than twice the salary of former Iraqi soldiers _ and are expected to commit to working for at least a year, Russell said.
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