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Bush Speech to Signal End of Major Combat in Iraq - 2003-04-30

President Bush is preparing to tell the nation and the world that major combat operations in Iraq are over. Meanwhile, his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, told Iraqis that the United States is eager to return the country to their control. But there was also a sobering reminder that Iraq remains an unstable and, at times, violent place.

President Bush will declare that major combat operations are over in Iraq in a speech Thursday from the deck of the returning U.S. aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln.

Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer says the president's address from San Diego will not be a "victory speech" because "pockets of danger" still exist in Iraq.

As if to confirm that very point, there was a further reminder that Iraq remains insecure and sometimes deadly.

For the second time this week, U.S. troops fired on demonstrators in the small town of Falluja, about 50 kilometers west of Baghdad. At least two Iraqis were reported killed and 14 others injured.

U.S. Army Colonel Tobin Green told VOA's Laurie Kassman in Falluja that the incident began when shots were fired at a U.S. military convoy passing through the town.

"That crowd later threw rocks at U.S. forces and coalition members in the compound and later at a vehicle movement or a serial [convoy] that drove by," he said. "That escalated to gunfire and that led to the return of gunfire."

Correspondent Kassman reports the crowd had gathered to protest another shooting on Monday in which more than a dozen Iraqis were killed and many more wounded.

"In part, protesting because of the shooting incident on Monday, but also because they want the presence of U.S. troops in the town reduced," she said. "They see them as a provocation."

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Iraqis, in a broadcast message, that the United States is eager to return the country to their control.

Mr. Rumsfeld became the highest-ranking member of the Bush administration to visit Baghdad since the fall of Saddam Hussein, and he paid tribute to coalition troops in a speech at the Baghdad airport.

"You have unleashed events that will unquestionably shape the course of this country, a fate of a people, and very likely affect the future of this entire region," he said. "Take great pride in your accomplishment, not only for what you have done, but also for how you have done it."

While most combat operations are over, coalition troops continue the hunt for weapons of mass destruction.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair told his critics in Parliament that he is convinced that chemical or biological weapons will be found in Iraq even though none have been confirmed as yet.

"We will bring forward the analysis and the results of that investigation in due course," he said. "And I think when we do so, the honorable gentleman and others will be eating some of their words."

But some weapons' experts fear the coalition is not applying enough resources in the weapons hunt.

Former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay speaking with VOA-TV explained said, "The worst outcome for me would be for us to discover them, but not be able to verify that we have discovered them all because some, in the meantime, may have walked across the border into the arms of someone who was willing to sell them."

U.S. officials are questioning captured members of the former Iraqi regime in hopes of finding new leads in the weapons search.