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Major arrests show a shift in Iraq

Still, attacks continue, like the one in Hilla Monday that killed more than 100 people, despite detention of top militants.

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The arrest of seven key insurgents in the past two weeks, including Saddam Hussein's half-brother and top aides to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, are giving a much-needed morale boost to Iraq's counterinsurgency efforts.

Indeed, some Iraqi officials see the momentum beginning to shift since the Jan. 30 elections. They say Iraqi citizens are providing more tips, and that a series of videotaped confessions by captured insurgents shown on Iraqi TV are helping discredit the rebels. "We are very close to al-Zarqawi, and I believe that there are a few weeks separating us from him," Iraq's interim national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie told the Associated Press.

Analysts agree that the string of arrests are likely to hurt the insurgency. But the decentralized nature of the uprising makes it difficult to dismantle. A massive car bombing in Hilla, Iraq, Monday underscored the point. The bomb exploded near a line of recruits for the Iraqi security forces in the southern Iraq town, killing more than 100 people, one of the largest death tolls from a car bomb in Iraq.

US military intelligence experts say the insurgency is made up of several groups with different long-term goals but the common short-term goal of forcing US troops out of Iraq. They include former Baath party members loyal to Saddam Hussein and Sunni extremists, like the Jordanian militant Zarqawi, who see Iraq as part of a larger global war against entities they feel are anti-Islamic.

"We tend to put a hierarchical Western military template [on other conflicts] but it doesn't work that way," says Lord Timothy Garden, a former officer in the British military and senior fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London. Lord Garden suggests the latest arrests have to go hand in hand with broader changes in the country to shut down the insurgency.

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