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US Troops Face Light Resistance in Tikrit - 2003-04-14

U.S. troops are clearing out pockets of resistance in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown. Increasingly, though, the focus of Operation Iraqi Freedom is shifting away from military objectives to rebuilding Iraq.

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 secured all of Iraq's oil fields, including those in northern Iraq. The southern oil fields were seized early in the war.

General Brooks also told reporters at Central Command headquarters in Qatar that the focus of Operation Iraqi Freedom is increasingly shifting to stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq in the wake of the downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime.

"But clearly, we are at a point where the decisive military operations that were focused on removing the regime, destroying its capability, removing its ability to threaten neighboring countries, our coalition forces or our own countries, that work is coming to a close," he said.

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

Looting has abated somewhat in Baghdad and that there are small signs that the capital is slowly attempting to return to normal, according to 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 reported. "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 is a new U.S. warning for Syria not to provide safe haven for former leaders of the Saddam regime. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters at the State Department that the United States is examining diplomatic and economic measures aimed at Syria for harboring Saddam loyalists.

"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."

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.

"What is important is for Syria fully to cooperate over these questions that have been raised about the fact that some fugitives from Iraq may well have fled into Syria and other matters, including whether they have, in fact, been developing any kind of illegal chemical or biological program," he said.

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

Finally, Iran says it will arrest and put to trial any former Iraqi leaders who try to enter its territory. A foreign ministry spokesman said any Saddam loyalists caught fleeing into Iran would be tried "for crimes committed against the Iranian people."