The Washington Times

Coalition turns to Saddam's Tikrit

April 13, 2003
Section: PAGE ONE

Page: A01


Caption: An Iraqi woman tearfully talked with relatives yesterday on a satellite telephone borrowed from a news reporter outside the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad. [Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr./The Washington Times]

Coalition forces prepared to mount an all-out assault on the northern Iraq city of Tikrit - the last stronghold of Saddam Hussein's regime - as a senior Iraqi arms official surrendered to U.S. forces yesterday.

In addition to combat, military operations also focused on ending the looting in many northern cities and setting up police and security forces to restore order.

Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, who had been a key spokesman for Saddam in claiming Iraq had no banned chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, surrendered to U.S. authorities, defense officials said.

The general was among 55 Iraqi government and military officials wanted by the United States. His capture could provide a windfall of intelligence information on Iraq's covert weapons programs, officials said.

The general said he did not know what happened to Saddam and repeated earlier statements that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

Gunbattles continued yesterday in Baghdad between U.S. military forces and remaining Iraqi fighters.

A senior Bush administration official said the swift military successes have been extraordinary. "The magnitude of what we've achieved is now very clear," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

"People now may underestimate the small pockets of things that have to be dealt with," the official said, "and clearly, we've got to start doing things to stabilize the situation in places that have been liberated, but we're making progress on that, too."

Bombing raids continued against the last organized military forces in Tikrit, Saddam's ancestral homeland and the last remaining city not under coalition forces' control.

"The regime is in disarray and no longer in control of Iraq, and the coalition remains focused on the objectives of the campaign," Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told reporters in Qatar.

Widespread looting in Baghdad and other cities is subsiding, he said, and in Basra and Mosul, it stopped.

U.S. and coalition military forces conducted "simultaneous actions in all parts of the country," he said. "Some focused on removing any remaining chance of the regime returning to power, while others focused on setting the conditions for a stable and free Iraq."

Iraq's security, intelligence, military and paramilitary organizations had kept a tight grip on the Iraqi people, Gen. Brooks said, but have been beaten by coalition forces.

"None of those things can return," he said. "We believe we have defeated all of those. While there are still pockets of resistance out there, ... those types of capabilities have been eliminated."

U.S. Marines in Baghdad also discovered evidence of Iraq's support for suicide-bombing attacks. Scores of black leather vests filled with explosives and ball-bearings were found at an elementary school.

"Odds are high that someone is out there wearing one," Marine Lt. David Wright, 27, of Goldsboro, N.C., told the Associated Press.

Marines in Baghdad also secured the Mansour neighborhood where Saddam was last seen Monday near a restaurant before a devastating U.S. bombing attack leveled a building the Iraqi leader was seen entering.

Saddam has not been seen or heard from since the attack, which is believed to have killed other senior Iraqi leaders.

"Oh, the president was there," one Iraqi man told Cox Newspapers reporter Larry Kaplow, who reached the bombing scene in Baghdad yesterday.

"There is a lot of evidence here," said Mansour neighborhood resident Sa'ad Al Waali, 51, a retired general. "More than 90 percent, I think [it was Saddam]."

Defense officials said last week the military had no immediate plans to check the Mansour bombing site until fighting in Baghdad and Iraq subsides.

The first units of the Army's 4th Infantry Division began moving yesterday into Iraq from Kuwait to reinforce tired troops in the country. The division originally was set to drive south from Turkey but was blocked by the Turkish government.

Gen. Brooks said U.S. forces are moving toward Tikrit, a stronghold of Saddam's forces.

"Tikrit is not the only place where we believe there is still a presence of either regime forces or regime leaders or regime activities," Gen. Brooks said, "and so, there would still be work to be done beyond that."

Bombing raids have been carried out in recent days against Iraqi Republican Guard units near the town about 100 miles north of Baghdad.

"We may find that there's not much fight left, but some of the recent operations indicate that there's still some fighting to do, even in those areas," he said.

Special Forces troops moved into areas near the northern city of Mosul and met with local Kurdish leaders to help stabilize the city. A "neighborhood watch" system of police was set up, Gen. Brooks said.

"At this point, a wholesale capitulation has occurred, and effective military forces have not been encountered in that area," he said.

Special operations commandos and troops of the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade are taking over the northern oil fields, a key objective of military operations.

The oil fields stretch through an area west of the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

In Kirkuk yesterday, an Iraqi military officer told U.S. forces that as many as 24 missiles armed with chemical warheads were buried at a complex in the city. U.S. forces are investigating the report.

Gen. Brooks said, so far, there are no signs the Iraqis wired the estimated 1,500 northern oil wells with explosives, although preparations for sabotage were detected.

"The conditions of the wells in the north so far are pretty good," he said.

News reports from Baghdad showed images of the bombed out and abandoned building that once housed the officers of the Iraqi secret police, known as the Mukhabarat.

U.S. troops helped Iraqis search for underground prisons where missing Iraqis are believed to be held. The hunt for hidden weapons of mass destruction also proceeded yesterday.

In the western town of Al Qaim, Gen. Brooks said, special operations commandos found two robot aerial vehicles at a phosphate plant.

The drones may be delivery vehicles for Iraq's chemical warfare program.

In northern Iraq, CNN reported that traces of a deadly nerve agent were found in a rocket warhead.

Vice Adm. Timothy Keating, the commander of naval forces in the war, told reporters that two or three of the five aircraft carriers in the region may head home, as major aerial bombing operations wind down in the coming days.

"We are looking at a gradual and measured reduction of those naval forces that are in the [region]," he said in a telephone interview from the Middle East.

The first carrier that may leave the region, with its battle group, is the USS Kitty Hawk, based in Japan, Adm. Keating said.

Since the war began, he said, U.S. and British ships fired 800 Tomahawk cruise missiles and flew 7,000 aircraft missions.

Special Forces troops stopped a bus in western Iraq carrying 59 men who had letters that offered financial rewards for killing American soldiers, Gen. Brooks said. The Iraqis also had $630,000 in $100 bills.

Army forces in Baghdad on Friday found five Iraqi mobile missile launchers and one short-range Al Samoud 2 missile, Gen. Brooks said. Additional troops from the Army's 101st Airborne Division are moving into areas of Baghdad to assist in efforts to "clear" the city of Iraqi forces, he said.

"In every case, we find that presence of coalition forces is indeed contributing greatly to the establishment of stability," Gen. Brooks said.

There are varying reports about whether Saddam is dead or alive, he said.

"What we do know is that the regime is not in power, that regime members who have tried to flee areas where they previously were, some of them have been killed, their forces have been killed, in many cases, or captured," he said.

U.S. intelligence agencies have received information indicating Iraqi officials believe Saddam is dead, U.S. officials said.

With the ouster of the Saddam regime, U.S. military and intelligence forces are gaining new information that will be used to locate soldiers missing from the conflict. Seven U.S. soldiers were held as prisoners of war when Baghdad fell last week.

"There is some risk that those who absolutely know where any prisoners of war have been held might be gone," Gen. Brooks said, noting that others who may know are being sought.

"To date, there have been some indications of different prisons where they might have been held," he said. "We've entered some of these in the very recent days and have not found them, which means our work is not yet complete."

"We'll remain focused on it," he said. "We haven't forgotten them. We won't forget them, and we'll commit actions to try to retrieve them whenever we have information that can be acted upon."

Gen. Brooks said officials of the ousted regime are fleeing.

"Where they're going, we don't know," he said. "We know they're on the run, and we'll pursue them in places where we think they might have gone, certainly within Iraq, where we have the military capability to conduct operations."