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Coalition Forces to Intensify Search for Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction - 2003-04-17

U.S. Special Forces troops have captured a half-brother of Saddam Hussein as part of the ongoing effort to round up former regime leaders. Meanwhile, coalition forces are preparing to intensify their search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

U.S. troops captured another one of the 55 most wanted Iraqis associated with the Saddam Hussein regime.

U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks announced the capture of Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti at Central Command headquarters in Qatar.

"Barzan is the half-brother of Saddam Hussein and an adviser to the former regime leader with extensive knowledge of the regime's inner workings," he said. "There were no friendly or enemy casualties. The capture demonstrates the coalition's commitment to relentlessly pursuing the scattered members of a fractured regime."

There are also further reminders that while the fighting in Iraq has largely abated, pockets of determined resistance remain.

Newly arrived members of the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division engaged in a brief firefight with Saddam loyalists near the Taji airfield north of Baghdad. Several Iraqi fighters were killed or wounded, a number of tanks were destroyed and more than 100 Iraqis were taken prisoner.

Meanwhile, VOA Defense Department correspondent Alex Belida reports that U.S. military officials are preparing to intensify the search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He says defense department officials plan to dispatch about 1,000 experts to Iraq, including some former United Nations weapons inspectors, to assist in the effort.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says it may take some time, but he is confident that weapons of mass destruction will be found.

"I don't think we will discover anything, myself," he said. "I think what will happen is we will discover people who will tell us where to find it."

Coalition military commanders are reorganizing their ground forces to assist in the stabilizing and reconstruction efforts. U.S. Army troops will be responsible for Baghdad and northern Iraq while U.S. Marines are shifted to the south. British forces will continue their responsibilities in the southern city of Basra.

The challenge of restoring power and water continues to be a major one, especially in Iraq's major cities.

VOA correspondent Laurie Kassman reports from Baghdad that local authorities are having some success in restoring water but are having a difficult time repairing the city's damaged power system.

Despite these problems, she says Iraqis are attempting to resume their normal lives.

"But Iraqis now are feeling more comfortable coming out onto the street. Hundreds, thousands are pouring back to their offices to see, first of all, if the buildings are still standing," she said. "But also to try to come back and clean up and get things up and running again."

In Washington, FBI Director Robert Mueller announced that he is sending agents to Iraq to assist in recovering precious antiquities looted from museums. He also said that nearly 10,000 FBI interviews with Iraqis living in the United States produced leads on possible terror suspects and valuable information that was passed along to coalition troops in Iraq.

Finally, on the diplomatic front, Secretary of State Colin Powell says he will travel to Syria at some point as part of what he calls "a vigorous diplomatic exchange" with the government in Damascus. Syria has denied U.S. allegations that it has chemical weapons and is providing safe haven to members of the ousted Saddam regime.