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Iraq War News Roundup

April 12, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: There was more sporadic fighting as well as disarray and looting today in Iraq. There were also moves toward calm in parts of the country, and an important surrender. Kwame Holman has our war news roundup.

KWAME HOLMAN: U.S. military officials hoped the surrender of a top Iraqi scientist might lead them to weapons of mass destruction, and marines discovered possible evidence of more planned suicide attacks. This evening in Baghdad, U.S. forces were fired on by paramilitaries and Arab fighters just outside the Palestine Hotel. There was heavy machine gunfire and explosions, as marines ran tree to tree along the banks of the Tigris River. After about 20 minutes of fighting, marines secured the area, one of the last pockets of resistance in the capital. Elsewhere in the city, the Iraqi information ministry building was on fire, after it was pillaged. Lawlessness and looting continued throughout much of the day in several parts of the city. (Shouting) Some Iraqis decided to take matters into their own hands. Vigilantes took to the streets, stopping and searching cars and shaking down looters. Other vigilantes attacked people they claimed were members of the ousted Ba’ath Party. But at central command in Qatar today, Brigadier Gen. Vincent Brooks downplayed the looting.

BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: First I would say it’s not nearly as widespread as the focus seems to be when the camera happens to be at those locations, that’s just the reality. This is a very large country with many cities and even the city of Baghdad has many areas. Some of these were retribution against the regime, some have gone beyond that clearly. But we think it is already tapering off significantly. It’s not an acceptable behavior for the Iraqi people. And where leaders are stepping forward in communities, it’s coming to an end. We certainly encourage that to happen in as many communities as possible.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today reporters were shown what was left of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, after it too was ransacked. We have this report from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

LINDSEY HILSUM: They destroyed the past. The ancient heritage of Mesopotamia, the land of Babylon, Minerva, and Urr, smashed. It doesn’t look like looting this violation of the Iraq museum. More like vandalism. It found its expression in breaking the artifacts of Iraq’s 5,000-year-old civilization. The archeologists who work here are in despair. Their countrymen did this.

MAN (Translated): We’d have been better off keeping Saddam Hussein; at least people were scared of him, people would never have done this when he was in power. I’m saying this before God and history, and after this, they might as well shoot me.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Irreplaceable photographs, records, computer files, ransacked and burned. The museums were associated with the regime, but Saddam Hussein is only one shorten episode in the long history of this land. Despite him, the museum kept up its link was the British museum and other international organizations. The volunteers tried to stop further attacks, say the Americans sent five soldiers when they told them what was happening. They chased away the vandals, but then they left and the thugs came back.

KWAME HOLMAN: In response to the ongoing chaos in Baghdad, the U.S. Military agreed to begin joint patrols with Iraqi police. As many as 200 former policemen were preparing to join the patrols.

AHMED ABDUL RAZZAK, Baghdad Police Chief (Translated): We are trying to establish patrols on the streets, starting from tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, and hopefully security will return.

KWAME HOLMAN: And U.S. officials said they were dispatching the first contingent of 1200 American police and judicial officers to Baghdad today. In another part of Baghdad, Lieutenant General Amer al-Saadi, the top scientific advisor to Saddam Hussein, surrendered to U.S. forces on Saturday. He was one of 55 Iraqi regime members sought by coalition forces. Germany’s television network helped arrange al-Saadi’s surrender. He had worked closely with weapons inspectors prior to the war, and before he surrendered today continued to insist Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.

AMER AL-SAADI: I was knowledgeable about those programs, the past programs, and I was telling the truth — always telling the truth — never told anything but the truth. And time will bear me out, you will see. There will be no difference, after this.

KWAME HOLMAN: Al-Saadi left his home with his German wife and surrendered to an American military officer. Meanwhile, marines made important discoveries at two Baghdad schools. At an elementary school they found more than 40 vests believed to be for suicide bombers. The vests stuffed with explosives and ball bearings, found next to empty coat hangers, suggesting some vests may be in use around the city. And at a junior high school nearby, marines said they found a large cache of weapons including rocket propelled grenades, surface to air missiles, and shoulder launched rockets. In western Iraq toward the Syrian border, U.S. forces stopped a bus load of men carrying $630,000 in cash, and a letter offering rewards for killing American soldiers. Central Command’s Gen. Brooks also said coalition forces had successfully suppressed Iraqi resistance around al Qaim and were searching for weapons of mass destruction.

BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: Special operations forces continue their work in and around that area. They entered into a number of facilities, including searching a train station and air defense headquarters, a phosphate plant, a cement factory, and a water treatment plant. Worthy of note, they found two drums at the phosphate plant and at this point we don’t have any additional information on that.

KWAME HOLMAN: And in Tikrit, Saddam’s home town, U.S. bombers struck positions around the city, considered to be one of the few remaining Iraqi strong holds. Officials said members of the first marine expeditionary force now are moving out of Baghdad toward Tikrit.

BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: We know there’s still military equipment in the Tikrit area, further to the West, in some areas to the East. And all of those must be approach and investigated. We may fine that there’s not much fight left. But some of the recent operations indicate that there’s still some fighting to do, even in those areas.

KWAME HOLMAN: Farther north in Kirkuk, life appeared to be returning to normal, following almost two days of looting. A strong American presence was felt in the city, with U.S. troops seen manning checkpoints. Kurdish fighters in Kirkuk announced they’d would leave by the end of the day. Their presence has alarmed Turkey, which repeatedly said it will not accept Kurdish control of Kirkuk or other northern cities, fearing it could trigger an uprising among independent minded Kurds in Turkey. This afternoon I spoke to New York Times reporter David Rohde, who was in Mosul, northwest of Kirkuk. A small contingent of American and Kurdish troops moved into that city Friday. I asked Rohde to describe what’s been going on in Mosul since then.

DAVID ROHDE: The biggest shift is that several hundred American troops have rolled in here to try to control the city and rampant looting here, and also a dangerous development, fighting between Arabs and Kurds, and other groups here in the, if it grows it could turn into a wide conflict. The unfortunate thing is that today despite heavy American patrolling, U.S. forces are continuing to come under fire here from unknown gunman. And the arrival of many Americans has not stabilized the situation. Yesterday in Mosul, American commanders spent hours trying to prevent Kurdish forces from rushing into Mosul after Iraqi forces withdrew. And that was all about preventing the Kurds from coming in, because that could possibly trigger a Turkish intervention here. And then you’d have Kurdish fighters fighting Turkish army soldiers, a conflict within a conflict. While the Americans were trying to stop that on one side, in the city itself there was tremendous looting that went on, and we’ve now got an Arab population that’s furious saying why did the Americans, basically there was about an eight-hour delay, why didn’t they come into this city, universities, hospitals, hotels, factories, the minister of education, everything here has been completely looted in the city. And the government administration is a shell of what it once was.

KWAME HOLMAN: Is the situation stabilizing now, David, and if it is, is it because of the U.S. forces that are coming in and we understand the numbers aren’t very large.

DAVID ROHDE: They’re not very large and there’s a major concern that there aren’t enough American troops to patrol Mosul and Kirkuk. It’s stabilized somewhat, but there is here some already built in resentment of the United States after the bombing campaign and there’s tremendous expectations of lawlessness. In the middle of all this is one American colonel who is the mayor now, the prosecutor, the police chief, the head of civil works, all in one, along with being a military commander that’s now in charge of Mosul, a city of 1.7 million people. So it’s – they’re off to a rough start is a way to put it. Maybe things will settle down tomorrow, but worst case scenario we’ll be, they can expect more attacks on Americans and continued fighting between Kurds and Arabs here.

KWAME HOLMAN: As of today, the U.S. Military reported 109 soldiers and marines killed in the war. More than 400 have been wounded. Ten are missing and seven still are listed as prisoners of war. The official British death toll remained 31. There continues to be no reliable count of Iraqi soldiers and civilians killed or wounded. It’s believed to be in the thousands. Jim.

JIM LEHRER: Thanks, Kwame. Army Private Jessica Lynch was welcomed back to the United States today. She was a wounded prisoner of war who was rescued by U.S. Commandos from an Iraqi hospital on April 1. She arrived at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington from Germany aboard a military plane this afternoon. She’s to receive treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. There was movement today on an international aid package to rebuild Iraq. Finance ministers representing the world’s leading industrial nations agreed to support a new U.N. resolution on post-war aid. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank will also be involved in the effort. The agreement came at the annual meeting of the group of seven nations held in Washington. U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow attended the meeting and had this to say.

JOHN SNOW: I noted in the course of observations I made the importance the United States attaches to the role of international cooperation as the people of Iraq begin the process of claiming their liberty and building their economy. Cooperation is vital for providing humanitarian assistance, and for the rebuilding and reconstruction that lies ahead for Iraq.

JIM LEHRER: Iraq’s future was also addressed by retired General Jay Garner today. Garner will head an interim U.S. led civil administration in Iraq. He spoke to a reporter in Kuwait.

GEN. GAY GARNER (Ret.), Postwar Iraq Administrator: What we’re going to do and intend to do is create an environment inside Iraq so they can build a nation for themselves. And the end of this day, this is a journey, we just started on the journey. I know where we started, I don’t know quite where it’s going to end, but it will end as soon as we hand this nation back to the Iraqis. I think over time they’ll get comfortable with this, in fact early on I think they’ll get comfortable with this, because there’s no material gains in this for the British or American others the Australians or any of the coalition. Our goal is to provide that environment where they can begin to govern themselves.

JIM LEHRER: The U.S. Congress completed work on a $79 billion package to pay for the war in Iraq. The House passed the measure today, the Senate last night. The money will also finance continued activities in Afghanistan and homeland defense. There were competing demonstrations in Washington today. Several thousand supporters of the war effort rallied on the National Mall. Several blocks away, anti-war protesters gathered near the White House. There were also protests against the war today in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Overseas, about 20,000 anti-war demonstrators marched in London. Protests were also held in South Korea, Bangladesh, Germany and Italy.