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US Forces Clear Out Remaining Resistance in Tikrit - 2003-04-14

U.S. troops are clearing out the remaining pockets of resistance in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown. Meanwhile, the United States and Britain are increasing pressure on Syria to address allegations that it has chemical weapons and is harboring members of the ousted Iraqi leadership.

U.S. forces now occupy the center of Tikrit, including the presidential palace.

U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks says resistance from Saddam loyalists was lighter than expected.

"This morning the attack entered Tikrit, securing the presidential palace there and also beginning the search for any remaining regime supporters," he said. "And this is really the only significant combat action that occurred within the last 24 hours."

General Brooks says coalition troops have now secured all of Iraq's oil fields, including those in northern Iraq. The southern oil fields were seized early in the war.

Later at the Pentagon, U.S. Major General Stanley McCrystal told reporters that he believes major combat operations are now over.

In Baghdad, some Iraqi police have joined with U.S. troops in patrols aimed at stopping looting in the capital and restoring order.

Looting in Baghdad abated somewhat, and that there are small signs that the capital is, slowly, attempting to return to normal, reports VOA-TV's Deborah Block, who is traveling with U.S. Marine units in southeastern Baghdad.

"They are very anxious to have their electricity back and their water. But more businesses are opening each day despite this lack of electricity," she said. "I went into a barbershop, in fact, where a man was cutting hair just using window light. So, more and more people are trying to come back to their normal lives despite the lack of electricity and water."

Deborah Block also reports that Marine units are stepping up their efforts to stop Iraqis who have been looting small arms and ammunition from various government buildings around the city.

On the diplomatic front, there was a new U.S. warning for Syria Monday not to provide safe haven for former leaders of the Saddam regime. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters at the State Department that the United States will examine possible diplomatic and economic measures aimed at Syria if the government fails to cooperate.

"And we believe in light of this new environment, they [Syria] should review their actions and behavior, not only with respect to who gets haven in Syria and weapons of mass destruction, but especially the support of terrorist activity," he said. "And so we have a new situation in the region and we hope that all the nations in the region will now review their past practices and behavior."

At a news conference in Kuwait, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he could not confirm President Bush's statement that Syria possess chemical weapons. But he says it is time for a dialogue with the Syrian government.

Syrian officials deny they are in possession of chemical weapons and say they are not harboring officials from the Saddam regime.

On Tuesday, Iraqi exile groups will discuss an interim administration and the future of Iraq at a conference in the southern city of Nasiriya.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon Monday that the United States is not backing any particular exile group for a lead role in the formation of a new government in Iraq.

"All I can say is that the United States government, and that includes the Pentagon, is not backing anybody for any role in Iraq," he said. "The Iraqi people are, over time, going to have to make those judgements and I'm sure they will."

Secretary of State Powell says Tuesday's meeting is a good beginning but only the first of many sessions to come.