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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 December, 2003, 12:18 GMT
Saddam arrest 'aids' rebel hunt
Saddam Hussein after his capture
Saddam's capture in a hole meant he was not leading the insurgency
US forces are stepping up their search for mid-ranking officials of the ousted Iraqi regime believed to be staging anti-coalition attacks, the US says.

The capture of Saddam Hussein has given the coalition an insight into the organisation of the Iraqi insurgency, top US commander John Abizaid said.

"Knocking out the mid-level leadership is the key to success," he said.

A trove of documents found in the hole where Saddam Hussein was hiding when he was captured has led to many arrests.

"Make no mistake: the loss of Saddam Hussein is a huge psychological blow and will pay dividends over time," General Abizaid, said.

However, attacks on US-led troops have not stopped, and on Thursday, an American soldier was killed in an ambush in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad - the first US death from direct fire since Saturday's arrest of Saddam Hussein.

Picture completed

"We continue to use information that we've gained from the intelligence system,.. some of which came from the capture of Saddam, to continue to take down those folks that are conducting attacks against the coalition," General Abizaid said, quoted by the Pentagon's Armed Forces Press Service.

John Abizaid
General Abizaid is still cautious, but more pointed
"From fighting this particular enemy, [we've learned that] knocking out the mid-level leadership is the key to success," the chief of the US Central Command said.

"If they were to take out our lieutenant colonels and colonels, we would have trouble, too. That's what we're doing to them."

General Abizaid said the "full-court press on" the US had mounted had resulted in the arrest of mid-level members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party who were leading the resistance - but warned that attacks would not stop immediately.

More expected

"We've got a lot of fighting ahead of us, but this is a big win for the young soldiers that made it happen, and for the young intelligence professionals that were smart enough to put the information together to lead us to the right place."

US troops in Iraq
US troops continue to come under attack in Iraq
The US soldier whose death was announced on Thursday was killed after his patrol came under attack at 2230 local time (1930 GMT) on Wednesday.

Four hours later, an explosive device blew up near another US patrol elsewhere in Baghdad, Reuters news agency quoted a US military spokeswoman as saying.

The death brings to 199 the number of US servicemen killed by hostile fire in Iraq since President Bush declared major combat over on 1 May.

On Wednesday, 10 people died when a fuel tanker exploded near a Baghdad police station in what the US military later described as a road accident.

The BBC's Lyse Doucet
"This report comes at a time when the Americans feel that the attacks against them are decreasing"

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