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US Intensifying Hunt for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq - 2003-04-17

The United States is intensifying the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, where sporadic fighting continues. Meanwhile, the ongoing effort by U.S. forces to round-up former Iraqi regime leaders nets the second of Saddam Hussein's three half-brothers.

VOA Defense Department Correspondent Alex Belida reports senior Pentagon officials plan to send about 1,000 experts to Iraq to hunt for chemical and biological weapons.

The Iraq Survey Group will include former U.N. weapons inspectors and members of a U.S. military team that is already in Iraq hunting for weapons.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he believes Iraqi help and information are crucial to a successful search. "I don't think we'll discover anything, myself. I think, what will happen is, we'll discover people who will tell us where to go find it," he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks announced the capture of another of the 55 most-wanted senior Iraqis, Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti. "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.

Although the main fighting is over, the U.S. Army's newly-arrived 4th Infantry Division engaged in a brief firefight with Saddam loyalists north of Baghdad. Several Iraqi fighters were killed or wounded, and more than 100 Iraqis were taken prisoner.

Meanwhile Washington kept up its criticism of Syria, which it accuses of harboring senior members of the ousted Iraqi leadership and developing chemical weapons. Secretary of State Colin Powell says he plans to go to Damascus to discuss these issues with Syrian officials.

"We have been candid with the Syrians, and we have also made it clear to the Syrians that we do not think it would be in their interest to be a draw for people who are trying to either get out of Iraq, or get out of other places in the world, and find a safe haven," he said.

On the humanitarian front, aid agencies opened a third overland route for relief supplies from Jordan. Aid is already entering Iraq from Kuwait and Turkey.

In New York, the United Nations Security Council is intensely debating the possibility of lifting U.N. sanctions on Iraq.

In Paris, experts held an emergency meeting to assess damage to Iraq's cultural heritage brought about by widespread looting of the Baghdad Museum and various archaeological sites. Most significantly, the experts called for a temporary ban on exports of Iraqi artifacts.

McGuire Gibson, head of the American Association of Research in Baghdad, believes the Baghdad Museum looters knew exactly what they were doing, and that the stolen artifacts will soon turn up in black markets outside the country.

"Part of the theft was a very, very deliberate, planned action, probably by the same sorts of gangs that had been paying for the destruction, the excavation, of sites in Iraq over the last 12 years," he said.

The FBI says it is sending agents to Iraq to help recover precious antiquities looted from Iraqi museums. The country is considered one of the cradles of ancient civilization.