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Pentagon: Most Major Fighting in Iraq Over - 2003-04-15

The Pentagon says most of the major fighting in Iraq is over, as coalition troops in the country turn their attention to humanitarian issues.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials turn-up the heat on Syria, which they accuse of harboring senior officials from Saddam Hussein's toppled government and possessing chemical weapons.

Major General Stanley McChrystal, of the Pentagon's Joint Staff, warns that there are still likely to be sporadic engagements in Iraq that he described as small and sharp.

But General McChrystal said most of the combat is now over. "I would anticipate that the major combat engagements are over, because the major Iraqi units on the ground ceased to show coherence," he said.

In Baghdad, U.S. military engineers began work on re-starting the city's main power plants, which Iraqi officials shut down nearly three weeks ago.

The U.S. Army general in charge of overseeing post-war rehabilitation projects in the Iraqi capital is Brigadier General Steven Hawkins. He says the city's power infrastructure has not been functioning at full capacity since the 1991 Gulf War.

"It's been fragile for a long time," he said. "And we're going to bring it up to the best of our ability, so that people have power and they have water, and they have medical support."

The chaos in Baghdad streets also has been dying down. Muslim cleric Hossein Mustafa says he and other religious leaders have been using mosque loudspeakers to send a clear message that the looting has to stop.

"We try to remind everybody, even the wives and everybody. The wives are essential in the house," he said. "They send a signal to the kids, to everybody, to their brothers, to their husbands, that what you are doing is against your religion."

As for Iraq's future, U.S. officials are convening a meeting of Iraqi opposition groups Tuesday to discuss post-war Iraq's political structure.

When asked whether Washington is backing controversial Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it will be up to the Iraqi people to choose their leaders.

"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 judgments, and I'm sure they will."

Meanwhile, the Bush administration had more strong words Monday for Syria, warning Damascus not to provide safe haven for former leaders of the Saddam Hussein regime.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Washington will examine possible diplomatic, economic or other measures against Syria, if it fails to cooperate.

"We believe, in light of this new environment, they [Syrian officials] 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.

For many years, Syria has been on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Damascus has denied the latest allegations that it is harboring wanted Iraqis or has chemical weapons.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair downplayed speculation that Syria might be the next American target. "Some of the wilder surmises that are in the media at the moment are simply not correct. There are no plans whatever to invade Syria," he said.

Mr. Powell did not say what measures might be considered against Syria, but other officials said the U.S. government could downgrade diplomatic relations with the Damascus government.