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US Destruction of Iraqi Weapon Caches Continues - 2003-04-24

U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq continue to find and destroy caches of weapons. But, defense officials say there is no coordinated effort under way to disarm the Iraqi population.

In recent weeks, U.S. forces in Iraq have discovered surface-to-air missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, artillery rounds and other munitions.

Defense officials say many finds like these are destroyed because they are old, outdated and possibly unsafe. But some small arms and ammunition are being saved for a future Iraqi military.

Lieutenant General Earl Hailston, commander of U.S. Marine forces in the Gulf region, says that is important for Iraq's stability and security.

"It's very important that they have a capability of self-defense and I can say that our plans in the future will include building a self-defense capability for the country, so with that will come arms," he said.

In the meantime, defense officials acknowledge there is no coordinated effort under way to disarm Iraqis, whether individuals or militia groups, even though they admit the presence of weapons among Iraqis does create uncertainty for coalition forces patrolling the country's cities.

For example, should this or that armed individual be carrying a weapon, perhaps to provide security for a hospital, or should that individual not be carrying a weapon, perhaps because he is a robber?

That uncertainty is one reason why U.S. troops are working closely with Iraqi police. Officials say they should know whether a particular armed individual is good or bad.

Marine General Hailston says the police are essential to Iraq's post-war stability.

"We're working hand-in-hand with the police force to come back in and establish that part of the triumvirate that you need to have security, stability and economic growth for a nation to prosper so we are working very closely with the police forces in the cities to establish just that," he said.

Senior defense officials say they are satisfied the U.S. forces now in Iraq are adequate for the task of providing overall security.

But they admit there are not enough soldiers or Marines to guard every street corner.

In the meantime, the Pentagon says additional military police are being sent to Iraq to assist in the post-hostilities transition phase.