The sweeps, which took place across Iraq, also led to the uncovering of several substantial weapons caches, military statements said on Saturday.

Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division captured six men, suspected of being Saddam Husein loyalists, in an operation on Thursday in the western province of Al-Anbar on Thursday.

Also in Al-Anbar, paratroopers from the US 82nd Airborne Division opened fire on two men seen planting an improvised bomb. One of the men was killed and another injured, the military said. 

US officials also disclosed that their forces were attacked in Annah in the same province on Thursday.

US troops from the 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment came under rocket-propelled grenade fire, leaving one soldier with a broken leg and shrapnel wounds.

In northern Iraq, the 4th Infantry Division (4ID) captured a man said to have been responsible for killing eight Iraqi soldiers during the US-led invasion of Iraq early last year. 

Another five men suspected of "illegal arms dealing" were arrested by the 4th ID close to Iraq's eastern border with Iran, while a haul of 100 rockets was recovered near the town of Samarra.

Separately, four men were captured by the 101st Airborne Division in northern Iraq during search operations around the town of Mosul, according to one statement.

Policemen killed

There are around 75,000 police
in the new Iraqi force

Also on Saturday, the US military said US soldiers shot and killed two Iraqi policemen embroiled in a family feud after mistaking them for assailants.

A military spokeswoman said soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade were sent to respond to reports on Friday that two families were fighting.

When they arrived, they saw two men carrying weapons and wearing long coats firing at a house. 

"As the soldiers approached, the men attempted to flee," said Major Josslyn Aberle of the 4th Infantry Division.

"The soldiers pursued them, shouting warnings and firing warning shots but the men did not respond. They killed one outright and another died before reaching hospital," she said. A third man was unharmed. 

"It later turned out all three were policemen," she said.

Previous shootings

It is not the first time US forces have mistakenly killed members of the Iraqi police or other local security forces. 

In December, three policemen were shot dead and two were wounded in the northern city of Kirkuk when troops fired on a checkpoint after apparently mistaking the men for bandits. 

And in September, American troops in the town of Falluja, a hotbed of resistance, accidentally killed 10 Iraqis belonging to the local police and another US-trained security force.

Prisoner of war

The most prominent detainee in US hands, Saddam Hussein was formally declared an "enemy prisoner of war" by the United States on Friday.

Saddam Hussein is being held
in an undisclosed location

In US custody since his capture on 13 December, the declaration ends speculation about the current status of the deposed ruler and entitles him to all the rights enshrined for prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.

A Pentagon spokesman said Saddam is entitled to and is being given all the rights due to him as a prisoner of war.

"The bottom line is that Saddam Hussein was the leader of the old regime's military forces, and therefore he was a member of the military, and he was captured. That makes him an enemy prisoner of war," Air Force Major Michael Shavers said.

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had earlier this week refused to answer queries about whether the deposed Iraqi ruler was being given the status of a prisoner of war.

Instead, he only said "Saddam was in good hands and being treated under the privileges of the Geneva Convention."

Decision

"The bottom line is that Saddam Hussein was the leader of the old regime's military forces, and therefore he was a member of the military"

Pentagon spokesman



Officials said the decision on Saddam's status was finalised this week after protracted deliberations.

"It is unusual that you have such a high-ranking enemy prisoner of war. So I think we just wanted to make sure that we had carefully thought through all the ramifications," the Pentagon spokesman explained.

The Geneva Convention, which bars the use of torture of a prisoner of war, also bans exposing a prisoner to insult or public curiosity.

The US was accused of breaching the convention when it circulated degrading pictures of Saddam's capture.

Black Hawk Down

Despite Saddam's capture attacks against US soldiers occur on a daily basis.

Last Thursday nine US soldiers were killed when their Blackhawk helicopter went down, possibly under enemy fire.

One of those killed was an army helicopter pilot who had survived a battle in Somalia depicted in the film Black Hawk Down.