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US Forces Shift Role in Iraq to Stabilization of Country - 2003-04-16

A week after the fall of Baghdad, the Pentagon says allied military operations are rapidly moving from combat to working to stabilize a nation that had been under dictatorship for decades. But opposition to the American military presence continues in some areas of the country, especially in the north.

There was more violence Wednesday in Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, where at least three more people were reported killed in shooting amid continuing anti-American tensions. The circumstances were unclear, but the unrest follows Tuesday's shooting deaths of at least seven Iraqi civilians by American Marines. The U.S. military said the Americans came under fire by townspeople demonstrating against their presence.

With combat operations now largely over, the Pentagon's General Stanley McChrystal is warning of more attacks as allied troops try to stabilize a country that has been under dictatorial rule for decades.

"In most areas, we are transitioning to going after the pockets of death squads, towards dealing with those elements that want to rise up and cause threats to either the new Iraq or to coalition forces," he said.

In his first trip to the Iraqi capital, the president's war commander, General Tommy Franks, spent six hours Wednesday meeting with his generals at one of Saddam Hussein's palaces, predicting American troops will remain in the country for some time while Iraqis organize a new government.

Even though much needs to be done to restore law and order, in a speech in St. Louis, Missouri Wednesday, President Bush promised Iraqis they will soon be living lives better than they have known in generations.

"The fall of that statue in Baghdad marked the end of a nightmare for the Iraqi people and it marked the start of a new day of freedom," he said.

He called on the United Nations to end more than a decade of sanctions and allow the country to sell more oil and generate the income needed for rebuilding the nation.

One of the goals still to be achieved by the coalition is finding and destroying Iraq's suspected chemical and biological weapons, something the Bush administration gave as a central reason for its decision to go to war. So far though, coalition forces have yet to confirm finding any banned substances.

"The real heavy duty work of being able to get into sites and getting detailed access to people who have knowledge and the facilities about which they may have knowledge, that's on going," said Brigadier General Vincent Brooks at U.S. Central Command in Qatar.

American troops did raid the Baghdad residence of Iraqi scientist Rihab Taha, known as Dr. Germ. But VOA's Alisha Ryu in Baghdad reports her whereabouts are unknown. "Rihab Taha is an Iraqi microbiologist who is believed to have run a secret laboratory, which manufactured the biological agent anthrax for use in weapons," she reports. "The raid follows the surrender of Saddam Hussein's top scientific adviser, Lieutenant General Amer al-Saadi, to U.S. forces four days ago."

And in a development that U.S. officials say demonstrates Iraq's links to terrorism, American forces in Baghdad have captured fugitive Palestinian terrorist Abu Abbas. It was his Palestinian Liberation Front faction that carried out the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean Sea, in which a disabled, elderly American was killed. U.S. officials are examining what should be done with him. The Palestinian Authority maintains the Oslo peace accords absolved him of any crimes carried out longer than a decade ago. But Italy, where Abu Abbas was convicted in absentia says it will seek his extradition.

He is the first major terrorist figure to be found in Baghdad since the fall of the Iraqi government, but is not the first terrorist known to have taken refuge there. Last year, Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal, who headed the group known as the Fatah Revolutionary Council, died in Baghdad.