Three more men on the United States "deck of cards" depicting Iraqi leaders it wants to arrest have been apprehended.
In a statement released on Friday by the Qatar-based Central Command, officials said that Abdul Tawab Mullah Hwaish, minister of military industrialisation, and also number 16 on the US’ list was in custody .
Taha Mohieddin Marouf is in US
Hwaish is thought to have been a major player in constructing Iraq’s weapons programme. Although no weapons of mass destruction have been found, US officials hope that Hwaish will provide information of the whereabouts of such weapons - if they exist.
Signalling that further inspections are to be conducted, and perhaps shedding hope that weapons will be found, President Bush said that the search is continuing inside Iraq for chemical and biological weapons.
“We have begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons, and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated,” he said.
Also in US custody is Taha Mohieddin Ma’rouf, a vice president and member of Saddam Hussein’s Revolutionary Command Council. Although a lesser known figure he rarely made public appearances and was not a part of Hussein’s inner circle, though his capture is considered significant.
The third former Iraqi official arrested was Mizban Khadr Hadi, a top Baath party leader who is number 41 on the list.
Abdul Tawab Mullah Hwaish
In addition to weapons of mass destruction, Aljazeera Baghdad correspondent Yousif Al Shareef reported that the US is hoping to be receive information regarding the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein and his sons Uday and Qusay, who are the highest ranked in the list of most wanted. With the latest arrests, the total number apprehended rises to 18 from a list of 55.
Meanwhile, local imams in Iraq pleaded for calm during the Friday prayers and demanded that the US fulfill its promise to restore order. Amid the post-war chaos, Iraqis have taken to the streets to protest the American occupation and the lack of services.
Tension peaked this week when 15 Iraqis were killed in Falluja by US soldiers. Imams have called on Iraqi citizens to end reprisal attacks.
"I want to tell you, to tell all of the people here in Falluja, not to attack Americans. If you do they will kill you. Do not fight them...they have tanks, how can you fight tanks?" one imam told Iraqis at his mosque across the road from the US military post.
However, preachers also asked the US to expedite the creation of an Iraqi government. "To America and its allies we say: where are your honeysweet promises? Now is the time to fulfill them," Sheikh Ahmad Al-Issawi said in a sermon at Baghdad's Abdel-Qader Kilani mosque.
"Where is the government? Till now the country is without a government. Install a government as quickly as possible even if it is an emergency government," he said. "Maintain security and protect public and private possessions from looters and get public services, water and electricity, back to normal," Kilani added.
But anger is still seething on the streets of Falluja where some locals stated that they would prefer to see Saddam Hussein back in power.
"They killed 15 and injured many others. How can they say that they have come to liberate us? They are liars. We suffered under Saddam but he did not treat us like the Americans do," said one resident.