April 14 —
Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit fell Monday with unexpectedly
light resistance, the last Iraqi city to succumb to overpowering
U.S.-led ground and air forces. A senior Pentagon general said
"major combat engagements" probably are over in the 26-day-old
As fighting wound down, Pentagon officials disclosed plans to
pull two aircraft carriers from the Persian Gulf. At the same time,
Iraqi power brokers looked ahead to discussions on a postwar
government at a U.S.-arranged meeting set for Tuesday.
"I would anticipate that the major combat engagements are over,"
Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal told reporters at the Pentagon. Tikrit
fell with no sign of the ferocious last stand by Saddam loyalists
that some military planners had feared.
Secretary of State Colin Powell hinted at economic or diplomatic
sanctions against Syria, saying the government is developing a
weapons of mass destruction program and helping Iraqis flee the
dying regime. Syrian officials denied the charges.
Looting eased in Baghdad after days of plundering at government
buildings, hospitals and an antiquities museum, and group of
religious and civil opposition leaders met in the capital to plan
efforts at renewing power, water, security and other vital
American forces found prodigious amounts of Iraqi weaponry,
French-made missiles and Russian anti-tank rocket launchers among
them. And Army troops discovered thousands of microfilm cartridges
and hundreds of paper files inside a Baath Party enclave as the dead
regime began yielding its secrets.
In Tikrit, about 90 miles north of Baghdad, "There was less
resistance than we anticipated," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told
reporters, as American ground troops moved into the city after days
of punishing airstrikes.
American forces captured a key Tigris River bridge in the heart
of town and seized the presidential palace without a fight as they
rolled past abandoned Iraqi military equipment.
They set up checkpoints to keep prominent regime figures from
leaving, and a line of armored vehicles was parked in front of a
bazaar inside the city.
"We have had engagements, and we have defeated the enemy in every
one of those engagements," said Capt. Frank Thorp, a spokesman at
U.S. Central Command.
The operation inside Tikrit, Brooks added, "is really the only
significant combat action that occurred within the last 24 hours."
McChrystal told reporters, "I think we will move into a phase where
it (combat) is smaller, albeit sharp fights."
With Saddam and his two sons dead or in hiding, his regime gone
and his armed forces routed, U.S. commanders took steps to reduce
American firepower in the war zone.
A U.S. defense official said two of five aircraft carrier
battlegroups in the region would soon be leaving, the USS Kitty Hawk
returning to its base in Japan and the USS Constellation to San
Diego. Each carrier has about 80 warplanes, including F/A-18 and
F-14 strike aircraft as well as surveillance and other support
The Air Force already has sent four B-2 stealth bombers home.
In a reminder of that hazards remain, one soldier with the Army's
V Corps was killed and another wounded in an apparent accidental
shooting near Baghdad International Airport, the military said.
With fighting on the wane, troops continued their search for
remaining POWs as well as evidence of weapons of mass
Maj. Trey Cate, a spokesman for the 101st Airborne Division, said
tests were planned on 11 shipping containers found buried near
Karbala with lab equipment inside.
A team of experts from the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency
also has arrived in the Persian Gulf region to search for clues to
the whereabouts of Capt. Scott Speicher, a Navy pilot shot down
during the 1991 Gulf War, officials said.
U.S. official said an Iraqi nuclear scientist, Jaffar al-Jaffer,
had surrendered to authorities in an unidentified Middle Eastern
country in recent days and was being interviewed by Americans.
On Saturday, Saddam's top science adviser, Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi
surrendered to U.S. forces.
In Washington, Powell became the latest senior administration
official to accuse Syria of harboring former members of Iraq's
regime and of maintaining a chemical weapons program.
"Of course, we will examine possible measures of a diplomatic,
economic or other nature as we move forward," Powell told
Fayssal Mekdad, Syria's deputy ambassador to the United Nations,
denied it. "There is no cooperation. We have no chemical weapons,"
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Syrian
President Basher Assad had personally assured him that his
government "would interdict anybody" crossing the border from Iraq.
"And I believe they are doing that," Blair told the House of
More and more, efforts were turning to building a postwar Iraq.
Officials made preparations for a meeting Tuesday in the southern
city of Ur, said to be the birthplace of the biblical patriarch
There, Iraqis from inside and outside the country will begin
discussions on the shape of a future government.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said "it's
not possible to know how long" a process of stabilization will take
Government offices and most stores remained closed in the
capital, but many buses were running, packed with passengers. The
first joint patrols moved through Baghdad during the day, with
Marines and Iraqis working together.
Police Lt. Col. Haitham al-Ani said American troops and Iraqis
would patrol in separate cars and that the Iraqis would be unarmed,
at least for now.
At the same time, local leaders met in Baghdad to discuss
security and plans to restore water and electricity to a city that
has been without power for more than a week. One Shiite Muslim
cleric, Ayad al-Musawi, told the meeting there should be "no Sunni,
no Shiite, just one Iraqi nation."
He added, "God willing, we will be one hand, one voice and not
betray each other."
|A U.S. marine armoured personnel
carrier drives through the streets in Tikrit, Iraq Monday
April 14, 2003. (AP Photo/Kevin
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