Friday, December 08, 2006

U.S. forces enter Tikrit

U.S. forces enter Tikrit
An Iraqi man carrying his mother as they return to Baghdad on Sunday after fleeing the U.S.-led bombardment. -- AFP
BAGHDAD ARPIL 13. Fierce fighting was heard late tonight on the edge of Saddam Hussein's traditional northern stronghold of Tikrit after Iraqi tribal leaders offered to surrender as the U.S.-led coalition forces closed in.
There were exchanges of gunfire and helicopters could be seen flying over the Governor's offices as the U.S. forces were preparing to attack.
Tikrit is the last major Iraqi city controlled by Mr. Hussein's forces and one where the remaining members of his regime have been expected to mount a last stand.
A Canadian journalist "embedded" with the U.S. Marines, Matthew Fisher, told CNN that 250 U.S. armoured vehicles had entered the city and quoted the U.S. Commander, Brigadier John Kelly, as saying that five Iraqi tanks had been destroyed on the outskirts and at least 15 persons killed in the fire fights.
U.S. officials said seven U.S. troops listed as missing were found alive and in good condition on the road between Baghdad and Tikrit. The seven arrived at a remote southern Iraq base and were to be taken to Kuwait later.
Saddam's DNA samples
Meanwhile, Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the war, disclosed that U.S. forces had samples of DNA of Mr. Hussein and other Iraqi leaders for potential use in the ongoing effort to determine if he is alive or dead. "We have the forensic capability to chase that down and we will chase that down," Franks told CNN. Of Mr. Hussein, Gen. Franks said: ``He's either dead or he's running a lot, but he's not commanding anything right now.''
A Kurdish television station reported that Mr. Hussein's half-brother, Watban al-Tikriti, was captured in northern Iraq.
Al-Tikriti, a former Interior Minister and Mr. Hussein's adviser, was found northwest of Mosul in an apparent attempt to reach Syria, said KTV, a station operated by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the two main Kurdish factions. The station gave no other details.
Looting continues
In Baghdad, looters hit Al-Salam presidential palace to nab bone china with the Iraqi eagle insignia, fancy washbasins and bathtubs — even fish from the garden pond. "Look how he lived when we couldn't even get bread," a man said. Looters also hit a vast stretch of army barracks and warehouses on the western outskirts. Using trucks and horse-drawn carts, they took toilets, bathtubs, sinks and construction materials. Nearer the city centre, an institute of military studies was looted and gutted by fire.
Chinese embassy attacked
China on Sunday said looters attacked its embassy in Baghdad, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. A Xinhua reporter said he saw 20 armed men in the inner courtyard removing refrigerators, computers and air conditioners early Saturday. Malaysian officials said gunmen ambushed and kidnapped three Malaysian journalists in Baghdad and killed their Iraqi interpreter. The journalists were later released unharmed. Two Malaysian doctors were wounded.
Elsewhere in the capital, however, the convulsions of anarchy appeared to be petering out. People felt secure enough to leave their homes and drive around, causing late morning traffic jams.
Library torched
The National Library, which houses a number of rare volumes, was in flames today after being ransacked, said an AFP reporter. The library, built in 1961, is home to Iraq's national archives.
Meanwhile, British troops and Iraqi policemen worked together in Basra today — the first stage in efforts to restore order in Iraq's second largest city, which has been the scene of mass looting in recent days.
The policemen, the first patrol in the city since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's rule, took to the streets, albeit in a limited capacity, in a bid to restore civil order. The British troops distributed a newspaper to Iraqis that military officials said was written "by Iraqis for Iraqis".
The U.S. Marines today reported finding five canisters with a substance testing positive for chemical agents but backed off their claim of finding 278 suspect artillery shells.
U.S. soldier shot at
In Mosul, the biggest city in the north, a U.S. soldier was shot and wounded on Sunday while on a patrol aimed at improving security. U.S. troops have control of Mosul's airport. The city in general appeared calm, but tensions between Kurds and Arabs appeared to escalate.
Many Arabs, who account for about two-thirds of the city, see the heavy presence of the Kurdish fighters in Mosul as an unwelcome occupation force.
In the old city centre, civilians armed with guns manned checkpoints to check for looters.
The Arab TV station Al-Jazeera reported that 15 people died in a fight between residents and looters.
The U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., tried to ease doubts about the U.S. role in Iraq's post-war reconstruction.
"The U.S. has not anointed anyone to be the future leader of Iraq or to be the leader of the interim Iraqi authority," Mr. Powell said.
Bush warns Syria
In Washington, the United States President, George W. Bush, has warned Syria not to harbour fleeing Iraqi leaders, saying that Syrian mercenaries have been helping Iraqi troops against the U.S.-led coalition forces. — AFP, AP, Reuters

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