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US Marines Advance North Toward Tikrit, Last Stronghold of Saddam Hussein's Supporters - 2003-04-12

Another U.S. Army division is moving into Iraq from Kuwait as U.S. led forces work to restore order to Baghdad and other areas beset by looting.

After a delay of weeks, elements of the Army's Fourth Infantry Division are finally in Iraq to supplement forces already there. The more than 10,000 troops were diverted to Kuwait after Turkey refused to allow them to attack Iraq from its territory.

A spokesman at U.S. command headquarters in Qatar, Brigadier General Vince Brooks, says the division has begun reinforcing thinly-dispersed coalition troops in southern Iraq, allowing some of those troops to proceed to Baghdad.

"How they will be used depends on the conditions we see at the time," he said. "That really is a tactical option for the land component commander as to how he will introduce newly-arrived forces into action."

In central Baghdad, U.S. Marines exchanged heavy fire Saturday evening with fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein's ousted government. Troops also discovered large Iraqi arms caches near homes and schools in densely populated parts of the city. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu on the outskirts of the city says U.S. military officials believe the arms might have belonged to Saddam Hussein's elite troops, the Republican Guards.

"They were located outside of Baghdad, but what happened was that as the Republican Guard units started falling, they took a lot of those weapons and moved them into the city, possibly for street-to-street fighting that never occurred, [or] possibly because the collapse of Iraqi command and control capabilities happened so quickly that they were not able to mobilize a lot of this stuff," she said.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, U.S. forces have opened two key bridges across the Tigris River. But looters took advantage of the opening to pillage new areas of the capital. Much of the plundering of the past few days has focused on government buildings, including the antiquities museum, and homes of former regime leaders as well has hospitals, schools, and foreign embassies.

VOA's Laurie Kassman in Baghdad says the destruction by marauders is widespread.

"There were government buildings, especially, that were on fire, or had already been destroyed," she said. "In fact, we passed by the Air Force headquarters, and that was still on fire. There were plumes of black smoke coming up from buildings that had been, obviously, destroyed and ransacked."

To curb the lawlessness, coalition troops and Iraqi police officers are setting up patrols. The United States is sending 1,200 political and judicial experts to Iraq to help restore order.

U.S. command spokesman Vince Brooks says the looting is tapering off. He notes that the situation is better elsewhere, such as Mosul in the north, where U.S. forces have entered after its fall Friday to Iraqi Kurdish fighters. There, looting has diminished and local leaders have established civilian patrols.

"This is occurring in other places as well and we see stability occurring in more and more places throughout the country," he said. "There are many more issues to be dealt with in Baghdad particularly one, because of its size, and secondly, because of the intense pressure that the regime had in that city."

In Kirkuk, an oil industry center also in northern Iraq, Kurdish forces that seized the city Thursday say they are turning control over to U.S. troops, who are securing the oil fields and airport.

Combat attention is focused now on Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit north of Baghdad, the only major city coalition forces have not taken. U.S. soldiers are within 100 kilometers of the city, which bombers have been pounding in advance of an attack.

The United States is offering cash for information about the location of Saddam Hussein, his top deputies, and weapons of mass destruction. One of the aides, Saddam Hussein's top science adviser, Amer Hammoudi al-Saadi, has become the first to surrender. He insists, however, that the regime had no such weapons.

In Washington, economic officials of the seven major industrial nations have agreed to support a new United Nations Security Council resolution as part of a multilateral effort to rebuild Iraq. The accord echoes a call by the Russian, French, and German leaders meeting in St. Petersburg. The summit's host, Russian president Vladimir Putin, says the war in Iraq has undermined the United Nations and international law.

Mr. Putin, French President Chirac, and German Chancellor Schroeder agree the United Nations must play a central role in Iraq's reconstruction.