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US Troops Shift Focus to Tikrit - 2003-04-12

Another U.S. Army division is moving into Iraq from Kuwait, 23 days after coalition forces began the war to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Military attention is now focusing on the former Iraqi leader's home city of Tikrit.

U.S. military officials say forward elements of the Army's 4th Infantry Division is finally in Iraq to supplement forces already there. The division, with a total troop strength of more than 10,000, had been delayed in its mission. Turkey's refusal to allow it to attack Iraq from its territory forced its diversion to Kuwait.

A spokesman at U.S. command headquarters in Qatar, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, says the division has already begun reinforcing thinly dispersed coalition troops in southern Iraq, allowing some of those troops to move into Baghdad. "How they will be used depends on the conditions we see at the time," he said. "That really is a tactical option for the land component commander as to how he will introduce newly-arrived forces into action."

Large numbers of coalition troops are moving into the northern city of Mosul, one day after it fell with no opposition to Iraqi Kurdish fighters and some U.S. forces.

In Kirkuk, a center of the oil industry in northern Iraq, Kurdish forces who seized it Thursday say they are turning control over to U.S. troops, who have been securing the oil fields and airport.

Combat attention is focused now on Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, 150 kilometers north of Baghdad, the only major city coalition forces have not taken. U.S. soldiers are within 100 kilometers of the city, which bombers have been pounding in advance of an attack.

U.S. forces have also opened two key bridges across the Tigris River in Baghdad, but the action was quickly followed by looters pillaging new areas on the west bank of the river. Much of the unrest has focused on government buildings and homes of former regime leaders, as well as hospitals, schools and foreign embassies. Looters have also pillaged Baghdad's antiquities museum. Its director says they have stolen 170,000 priceless treasures dating back thousands of years.

Humanitarian organizations have pleaded for U.S. forces to intervene, but VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu, who is with the troops on the edge of Baghdad, says they are not prepared to act as a civil police force. "So what they're trying to do is find enough local people that they can bring back into sort of a civil affairs type of situation, where they can teach them how to police, and try to get those people to go out and take care of the crowds and bring them under control," she said.

U.S. command spokesman Vincent Brooks says the looting was never as widespread as it appeared on television, and that it is tapering off. He adds that the situation is better elsewhere, such as Mosul, where theft has diminished, and local leaders have established civilian patrols on consultation with local U.S. commanders. "This is occurring in other places as well and we see stability occurring in more and more places throughout the country," informed General Brooks. "There are many more issues to be dealt with in Baghdad particularly, one, because of its size, and secondly, because of the intense pressure that the regime had in that city."

The increasing U.S. ground control in Iraq means U.S. naval forces in the area can relax. Vice Admiral Timothy Keating says one of three U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf is likely to leave within a few days. A second may not be far behind, if given the order by the top military commander in the region, General Tommy Franks. "We're working on a plan to get them home as quickly as we can, but our mission remains the same: To ensure the overthrow the regime," he said. "When General Franks says, 'Go,' we'll be ready to go."

To help clear Iraq of the vestiges of Saddam Hussein, the United States is offering rewards to anyone with information about location of the former Iraqi leader, his top deputies, and weapons of mass destruction.

In a radio address Saturday, President Bush said that, as the Hussein regime of fear is brought to an end, the people of Iraq are revealing their true hopes. "On Wednesday in central Baghdad, one of the Iraqi men who took a sledgehammer to the pedestal of the giant statue of Saddam had this to say: 'I'm 49, but I never lived a single day. Only now will I start living,' " he said.