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April 12, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
U.S. Steps Up Police Efforts Across Iraq
U.S. Sending 1,200 Officers to Help Restore Order in Iraq; Suspicious Bus Stopped Near Syria

The Associated Press


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As looting spread Saturday to new areas of Baghdad, U.S. officials said 1,200 police and judicial officers will go to Iraq to help restore order. Saddam Hussein's science adviser surrendered to U.S. forces and insisted Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.

In western Iraq, U.S. forces stopped a busload of men who had $630,000 in cash and a letter offering rewards for killing American soldiers.

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, at U.S. Central Command, said the 59 men, all of military age, were captured while heading toward Iraq's border with Syria. He said he did not know the men's nationalities nor who wrote the letter offering rewards.

The Central Command also said a "significant-sized" force of Marines headed north from Baghdad on Saturday to attack Iraqi military positions part way toward Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, one of the last bastions of his collapsing regime. No engagements had been reported so far.

In Baghdad, a firefight erupted Saturday evening outside the Palestine Hotel, where many journalists are based, by the Tigris River. Marines were running tree-to-tree as heavy machine gun fire and explosions could be heard near the river.

The threat of suicide attacks appeared ever more potent. Marines showed reporters a cache of about 50 explosives-laden suicide-bomb vests in an elementary school in Baghdad, less than 20 feet from the nearest home.

At a nearby junior high school, seven classrooms were filled with hundreds of crates of grenade launchers, surface-to-air missiles and ammunition. Residents said Iraqi soldiers and militiamen had positioned weaponry throughout the neighborhood before U.S. forces moved in.

"We didn't imagine this much stuff here," said Lt. David Wright, of Goldsboro, N.C. "Every 200 meters we find something."

Searching for weapons, and for holdout pro-Saddam fighters, has been the primary task of American troops in Baghdad. But U.S. officials, criticized for doing too little to curtail the looting, say restoration of law and order will become a higher priority.

The State Department said it is sending 26 police and judicial officers to Iraq, the first component of a team that will eventually number about 1,200.

Much of the looting has targeted government ministries and the homes of former regime leaders, but looters also have ransacked embassies, hospitals and private businesses.

Also pillaged was the Iraq National Museum, the country's flagship archaeological showcase, which featured priceless artifacts dating back to 5,000 B.C. Reporters visiting it Saturday saw row after row of empty glass cases, many of them smashed, and bits of broken pottery and sculpture on the floors.

Saddam's science adviser surrendered to U.S. military authorities Saturday, insisting that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and the U.S.-led invasion was unjustified.

Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi arranged his surrender with the help of Germany's ZDF television network, which filmed him leaving his Baghdad villa with his German wife, Helga, and presenting himself to an American warrant officer, who escorted him away.

U.S. forces reopened two strategic bridges in the heart of Baghdad giving looters easier access to territory that had previously been spared. U.S. soldiers watched but did not intervene as plunderers swarmed into several government buildings and emerged with bookshelves, sofas and computers.

Aid organizations, as well as many Baghdad residents, have pleaded with U.S. officials to crack down on the looting.

"The humanitarian situation is worsening as a consequence of widespread lawlessness," said InterAction, a Washington-based coalition of more than 160 U.S. aid groups. Iraq-based relief workers with CARE said hospitals are "in absolutely dire straits," with some looted and others closed to prevent looting.

Abbas Reda, 51, a Baghdad engineer with five children, was distraught at the looting of schools and hospitals.

"If one of my family is injured where will I take them now?" he asked. "The Americans are responsible. One round from their guns and all the looting would have stopped."

In another Baghdad neighborhood, residents complained that U.S. soldiers thus far have not heeded requests to clear cluster bombs dropped during the war. The residents said three people had been killed and one injured trying to pick up the unexploded ordnance.

Najah Jaffar, 51, described his attempt to get American help removing the bombs.

"When I spoke to the soldier, he said, `It takes time,'" Jaffar said. "Many bodies, many children will be killed without reason... This is no peace."

Looting diminished Saturday in the northern city of Mosul, a day after pro-Saddam defense forces dissolved and U.S. soldiers forces moved in. However, a Mosul hospital reported that 10 people had been killed in Arab-Kurdish violence that broke out as control of the city changed hands.

In Kirkuk, another northern city taken this week from Iraqi regime forces, there were signs of cooperation Saturday among the region's different ethnic groups. The Arab television network Al-Jazeera reported an agreement to form a local administrative body divided evenly among Arabs, Kurds and ethnic Turks.

Next, the U.S.-led coalition is expected to focus on Saddam's hometown, Tikrit, where some Iraqi forces are believed to be regrouping. However, the U.S. Central Command said many of the troops there have fled in the face of heavy airstrikes, and the remnants may not muster an effective defense.

Tikrit, 90 miles northwest of Baghdad, has long been a power center for Iraq's Sunni Muslim tribes, who may plan to resist as long as possible out of fear of losing power to the Shiite Muslim majority. Saddam drew many members of his inner circle from Tikrit, and built several fortified palaces and military installations there.

Officials at the Pentagon have specific concerns about one aspect of the widespread looting that vandalism of government offices could destroy evidence about weapons of mass destruction.

In western Iraq, U.S. troops seized control of crossings on two highways leading into Syria. There was tough resistance near Qaim, on the Syrian border, raising speculation that the town might be site for illegal weapons.

U.S. officials said Saturday that the first humanitarian flights had arrived at Baghdad's international airport since the American takeover two C-130 transport planes with 24,000 pounds of medical supplies from the Kuwaiti government for hospitals in Baghdad.

Another milestone flight took off in a different direction Saturday. Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the soldier rescued from Iraqi captivity in a dramatic commando raid, departed for the United States after a week of treatment at a military hospital in Germany. Several members of her family and 50 other injured soldiers were aboard the C-17 military transporter.


photo credit and caption:
An Iraqi woman offers a flower to an American Army soldier in the center of Baghdad, as hundreds of Iraqi demonstrate demanding peace and security, Saturday, April 12, 2003. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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