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Frontline Report: Large Weapons Cache Found in Baghdad - 2003-04-12

VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu was in Baghdad where she attended a briefing with U.S. military commanders. She provided an update to VOA's Dave Weber in London.

Weber:"Could you tell me what happened at the military briefing?"

Ryu: "Yes, I was at the briefing with U.S. military commanders and from what they've been telling me is that U.S. forces in Baghdad in the past several days have been discovering what one commander says is an unbelievable, eye popping amount of weapons and these weapons are located in the most densely populated areas of the capital.

Their theory is that these weapons probably belonged to the Republican Guards - the Republican Guards of course were the elite troops of Saddam Hussein; they were located outside of Baghdad - they were not allowed to come inside. But what happened was that as the Republican Guard units started falling they took a lot of those weapons and moved them into the city and placed them inside, possibly for street-to-street fighting that never occurred, possibly because the collapse of the Iraqi command control capabilities happened so quickly that they were not able to mobilize a lot of this stuff. But these weapons are just in every residential block and home, near schools, and of course one of the biggest finds that they've had today is that U.S. Marines discovered more than 40 leather vests stuffed with C-4 explosives and ball bearings at a school in Baghdad. And they found along with that empty hangers that suggest that possibly suicide bombers may be wearing them right now.

And at a junior high school nearby, reporters found hundreds of crates of weapons including rocket-propelled grenades, surface-to-air missiles, and shoulder-launched rockets. And residents are telling the soldiers that Fedayeen, the paramilitary fighters loyal to Saddam Hussain, have been putting them in those residences, those homes for the past month or so before the U.S. forces arrived. So the priority right now for U.S. forces is to collect these weapons and put them in a central location so they cannot be collected by Iraqi fighters."

Weber:" What about the Fedayeen? I understand that some of them are still operating in Baghdad. Have you had any reports of this?"

Ryu: "Yes, the Fedayeen are still there. They have dispersed; they are in small groups. You don't have the kind of pockets of Fedayeen that we saw initially when we came into the capital. Now it's bands of one or two or three or four individuals that are walking around. They have really mixed in with the civilians and of course that's another very worrisome trend for the U.S. troops that are here because that means the civilians are going to come under a lot more suspicions if the Fedayeen who launched this kind of guerrilla warfare tactics and try to mix in with them. This is something that they've feared all along and this is something that might happen still. So the Fedayeen has not gone away, but of course their ability to launch really big attacks has been reduced considerably."

Weber:"Alisha, turning to the looting that apparently is still going on in Baghdad, what are the military people saying about that? Are they able to come up with any plans for combating that?"

Ryu: "Well, the military commanders are saying that they are expecting the looting to subside by tomorrow or by the end of this week. They don't see the looting continuing, I think. They are looking at it that the Iraqis are just trying to vent some of the anger that they've had for a long time. They've been deprived for a long time and this their way of expressing it. They are not intent on destroying the capital or anything like that. So from their perspective it is something that will subside, that it will calm down. And it is already beginning to subside somewhat."

Weber: "Have they done anything about trying to get former policemen back on the streets?"

Ryu: "Yes they have. In fact today we've had reports that hundreds of Iraqis, including police officers, have responded to a U.S. appeal for them to come and help restore order in the capital and among them, today, were seven Iraqi police officers, led by a police colonel who came in his police uniform and came with some of his fellow officers to the Palestine Hotel and offered their help to U.S. soldiers."

Weber: "What about the power and water? Any progress been made on restoring those services?"

Ryu: "Yes, in fact, there are civil affairs engineers that are coming here - I believe they've already arrived - and they'll be going out in the city as early as tomorrow morning to take a look at the power grids to see what needs to be done to turn on the power in the city. What they're afraid of is turning on the power and setting off electrical fires. They want to make the sure breakers and things like that are all turned off before they turn on the main grid … so they're being very careful and I think that's why it's taken so long. But Baghdad should have power, they say, by some time next week."