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FALLUJAH

US to replace commander

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- The US military will probably replace the commander of a new Iraqi brigade taking over security in Fallujah, bringing in another Saddam Hussein-era general named Mohammed Latif, a US military official said.

The current commander, Major General Jassim Mohammed Saleh, who moved into Fallujah Friday at the head of the new brigade, will probably take a subordinate position to Major General Latif, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The change came amid signs of confusion among US officials over the identities of the generals who are forming the Fallujah Brigade, which has already taken control of the cordon on the southern half of the city as Marines pull back from the siege. US officials have acknowledged that the generals and their soldiers were not vetted to see what their ties were with Hussein's regime.

Latif participated in meetings with Marines last week on the creation of the Fallujah Brigade, the top Marine commander, Lieutenant General James Conway, said over the weekend. Conway said he believed that Latif had been exiled by Hussein's regime for several years.

"He is very well thought of, very well respected by the Iraqi general officers. You can just see the body language between them," Conway said. "And if I had to guess at this point, when we have this brigade fully formed, he demonstrates a level of leadership that tells me that he could become that brigade commander."

The US official, speaking yesterday, said the decision to make Latif in charge emerged as it became clear that he was more influential.

"General Saleh, as I understand it, will be working at the battalion level, not the brigade level," he said.

The Fallujah Brigade, made up of former soldiers from Hussein's army, took up further positions in the cordon around the city, replacing Marines who were pulling back to form an outer cordon. The Iraqi brigade now controls a ring around the southern half of Fallujah and is due to begin patrols inside soon.

Fallujah residents have been celebrating what many consider a victory over US forces, with trucks full of cheering Iraqis driving through the city, waving flags. They also began to survey the damage from the bloody, monthlong siege.

Yesterday, Iraqi volunteers wearing surgical masks and gloves disinterred bodies that had been buried in houses and backyards for reburial in a soccer field that has been turned into a graveyard.

US officials have been eager to find an "Iraqi solution" to a monthlong siege that had raised an international outcry and strained ties with US-allied Iraqi leaders.

There has been confusion over the identities of the generals in the Fallujah force.

One US officer said Saleh had been involved in an assassination plot against Hussein and that three of his children had been executed -- apparently mistaking him for Mohammed al-Shehwani, a former Air Force officer who in April was named as head of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service and whose three sons were killed by Hussein.

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