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Last Updated: Friday, 19 September, 2003, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Iraqi ex-defence chief surrenders
Former Defence Minister General Sultan Hashim Ahmed (Photo: Pentagon)
Ex-defence minister: US pledged to treat him well
Iraq's last defence minister under Saddam Hussein, former General Sultan Hashim Ahmed, has surrendered to US forces in northern Iraq.

Mr Ahmed - number 27 on the Americans' list of most wanted former regime officials - gave himself up in the northern city of Mosul on Friday.

A Kurdish human rights activist, Dawood Bagistani, said he had mediated the former minister's surrender to US Major-General David Petraeus.

Mr Bagistani said Mr Ahmed was taken into custody "with great respect" and was with his family at the time.

A statement from US Central Command said only that the former minister had turned himself in.

Out of 55 Iraqis in the US most-wanted list, 40 have either been captured or killed.

US forces earlier fought a fierce battle with Iraqi fighters near Saddam Hussein's home town Tikrit after three soldiers of the US 4th Infantry Division were killed in an ambush - part of a rare series of co-ordinated attacks.

A US commander in Tikrit, Colonel James Hickey, said fighting raged all night in the area and US forces captured more than 50 suspected Iraqi guerrillas.

IRAQ'S 55 MOST WANTED
38 now in custody
14 still at large
Saddam's two sons Qusay and Uday dead, another official thought to be dead

On Thursday, US troops shot dead the interpreter of an Italian diplomat serving with the US-led administration when the car they were travelling in failed to stop at a US roadblock.

The diplomat, Pietro Cordone, was not hurt in the incident, which happened near a roadblock between Mosul and Tikrit.

As senior adviser on culture, he leads efforts to recover priceless antiquities looted from museums and archaeological sites since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

US pledge

According to the former Iraqi minister's brother Abdullah, the general went with his six sons and three brothers to General Petraeus' house and the whole group had pictures taken with the US officer, who later flew with Mr Ahmed to Baghdad.

Mr Bagistani said the US military had promised to remove Mr Ahmed's name from the most-wanted list, meaning he would not face indefinite confinement and possible prosecution.

"His health is excellent and he is in high spirits," the mediator told reporters in Mosul. "He kept saying that he was a military man and did his job."

US soldiers arresting Iraqis in Tikrit
US troops are hunting supporters of Saddam Hussein
A letter from General Petraeus, quoted by the Associated Press, said "you have my word that you will be treated with the utmost dignity and respect, and that you will not be physically or mentally mistreated while under my custody".

"As a sign of good faith, I will personally ensure that my staff will attend to any medical conditions you have," it said.

Correspondents say the US military may have promised General Ahmed fair treatment to encourage resistance fighters to lay down their arms.

He was largely seen as a figurehead in the Iraqi armed forces, with Saddam Hussein keeping them under his firm control.

During the 1991 Gulf war, Saddam Hussein picked General Ahmed to lead the Iraqi team at ceasefire talks at Safwan, just north of the Kuwait-Iraq border.

Co-ordinated attacks

The three US deaths in Tikrit raise to 76 the number of US troops killed since major combat operations were declared over on 1 May, following the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

"It seemed to be co-ordinated. We saw action from the west and east side of Tikrit. That is unusual," Colonel Hickey said.

"We feel confident we now have under our control the individuals who attacked our patrol," he said.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Baghdad says the relentless attacks on US forces are getting more sophisticated, with fighters getting support from locals angered by US operations.

Hit-and-run attacks on US troops have been blamed largely on Saddam Hussein loyalists and former regime members.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Barbara Plett
"General Ahmed is apparently being held on reasonably good terms"



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