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Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.


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Friday, April 18

Looting widespread, but fighting mostly over

By Mike Madden | GNS

The United States all but declared victory in Iraq this week, as President Bush proclaimed Saddam Hussein's reign over and Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the war's military commander, made his first trip to Baghdad.

Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, the last major city under Iraqi control, fell to U.S. forces Monday with little resistance. Several top aides to Saddam surrendered to American soldiers throughout the week and were taken into custody.

Laying the groundwork for a postwar occupation, U.S. and British commanders divided the country into sectors on Thursday and started patrolling cities to maintain order. Only a few pockets of Saddam loyalists continued fighting around Iraq, but looting and revenge killings against former government officials still threatened the peace.

``It's an awkward period; it's a period where what was is gone, and what is going to be is not yet there,'' Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said. ``And what has to happen is somebody has to try to create an environment that's sufficiently secure and hospitable to that kind of a change but doing it without doing it in a manner that creates a dependency.''

Looters pillaged Baghdad's National Museum, taking priceless antiquities while U.S. troops did nothing to stop them. But a group of Marines foiled an attempted bank robbery, and by Friday, troops were protecting as much as $1 billion in gold and valuables in several downtown Baghdad bank vaults.

Pentagon officials took pains to point out that there was still some combat between American forces and Iraqi militia groups, saying the war was not yet over and that soldiers could not yet devote their full attention to peacekeeping.

But Franks' trip to Baghdad Wednesday - where he and his top advisers smoked cigars in a palace that had belonged to Saddam - seemed to indicate a new phase of the operation in Iraq.

``The president of the United States will determine when the war is over,'' Franks told reporters in the palace. ``One thing for sure, the regime of Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge of Iraq.''

Two aircraft carriers involved in the war, the USS Kitty Hawk and the USS Constellation, left the Middle East to return to their usual bases.

In Washington, the Department of Homeland Security lowered the terror alert from orange, or high risk, to yellow, or elevated risk, in a signal that terrorist reprisals for the invasion of Iraq were less likely with the fighting all but finished.

Bush administration officials warned Syria that it should turn over any Iraqi leaders who sought refuge there and disclose any Iraqi chemical or biological weapons that were shipped there for safekeeping. But Secretary of State Colin Powell said there were no immediate plans to attack Syria if it did not comply.

A group of Iraqi exiles and dissidents met in Ur, which the Bible says is the birthplace of Abraham, on Tuesday to discuss the country's future and to begin planning for Iraqis to take over from the United States.

Some Iraqis were already clamoring for an end to the U.S. occupation, barely a month after the war began. In Baghdad on Friday, thousands demonstrated against the United States and called for an Islamic government to rule the country.

Saudi Arabia hosted delegates from other Middle East nations Friday, in a summit where they called for the United Nations to take the lead in rebuilding Iraq. U.S. officials, though, indicated the United Nations would play a supporting role instead.