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US Marines to patrol lawless Baghdad

Troops fanned out to try to rein in looters and vigilantes in Baghdad and sought to control key northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk.

india Updated: Apr 12, 2003 14:19 IST

US troops fanned out to try to rein in looters and vigilantes in Baghdad while US forces sought to control key northern cities, Mosul and Kirkuk.

Dozens of US troops dodged sniper fire as they drove into Mosul, the oil-rich city ransacked by looters after falling to coalition-backed Kurdish fighters earlier in the day, to Turkey's dismay.

US commanders said their troops were also securing the nearby northern city of Kirkuk after Kurdish fighters seized it with almost no opposition on Thursday, leaving Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's ancestral power base of Tikrit as the last major holdout.

Two days after Baghdad fell to US-led forces and on day 23 of the US-led war, US troops struggled with pillaging.

Government buildings, hotels and even hospitals were stripped of medicines, stethoscopes, air conditioning units and incubators as US troops stood by.

"Out of the 32 hospitals in Baghdad, only three are currently operating -- and not in a normal manner," said Pascal Jansen, a coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

There was still no sign of Saddam or his sons, but his half-brother Barzan al-Takriti was said to have been killed in a US air strike.

US President George W Bush said in Washington that Saddam's absence does not make for victory.

"This war will end when our commanders on the field tell me that the objective has been achieved," he said.

Bush once again urged Syria to shut its borders to fleeing followers of Saddam and to turn over any who may be hiding there.

Syria "just needs to know we expect full cooperation," he said.

Damascus has told the United States that it has closed its border with Iraq to all but humanitarian traffic.

To try to help identify escaped Iraqi leaders, the United States distributed the likenesses of 52 of the most-wanted, printed up to look like a deck of cards.

In response to growing lawlessness in Baghdad, the United States planned to send 1,200 police consultants and money. Other countries have offered to send police as part of their humanitarian aid efforts.

Baghdad's attending physicians took to carrying rifles. They were treating looters shot by shopkeepers who had taken law enforcement into their own hands.

"We want the law to rule and if the Americans don't defend us then we'll defend ourselves with our own weapons," said shopkeeper Khazen Hussein.

A dozen looters helped themselves undisturbed at the National Museum of Iraq. Baghdad's two most prestigious hotels, the Rashid and the Mansur, were both ransacked and in flames.

After initially playing down the looting, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld agreed to take up the problem.

"International law requires that occupying powers must ensure the safety of the civilian population in areas under their control," New York-based human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Turkey meanwhile watched the Kurds in northern Iraq, fearing that Kurdish control of the region could stoke separatist ambitions among Turkish Kurds. Ankara sent military observers to northern Iraq after Kurdish fighters backed by US forces captured Kirkuk and Mosul.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Kurdish militia had started to move out of Kirkuk on Friday as US special forces secured the city.

However, top officials met in Ankara to review contingency plans to possibly send Turkish forces across the border.

In Mosul, US special forces drove into the city center aboard 11 light vehicles after US commanders said Iraqi forces had signed a ceasefire.

They were followed by hundreds of Kurdish peshmerga fighters who had taken the city overnight in the name of the US-led coalition.

But after passing through deserted streets devastated by looting and bombing raids, the US soldiers withdrew from a government building after coming under sniper fire.

US military planners switched their attention to Tikrit, saying they were carrying out air strikes on Iraqi forces.

The seat of Saddam's tribal support is expected to pose the last major direct challenge for the US-led forces who launched the war on March 20 and saw the Iraqi leader's regime collapse in Baghdad just three weeks later.

Troops on the ground were handed pictures of wanted members of the regime, while posters were printed to inform the Iraqi population, US Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told a media briefing in Qatar.

"The key list has 55 individuals who may be pursued, killed, or captured," Brooks said at the war command headquarters in Qatar, holding up a deck of cards.

Saddam's half-brother, Barzan al-Takriti, was killed Friday when a US plane bombed his farm, a family friend said.

Barzan had been placed under house arrest in March after contesting Saddam's wish that the Iraqi leader's younger son, Qusay, succeed him should he be killed, the friend said.

US Central Command confirmed the farm had been targeted by six "smart bombs."

Meanwhile, Putin welcomed the fall of Saddam, but said it had been achieved by the wrong means.

Putin also warned the US-led coalition not to attack other countries.

"We are not going to export capitalist, democratic revolutions," he said.

Putin and his French counterpart Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in St Petersburg challenged the US role.

"Only they (United Nations) have the necessary legitimacy" to rebuild Iraq, said Chirac.

The reconstruction has to happen "under the umbrella of the United Nations," said Schroeder.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell reacted quickly.

"We're not prepared to say, 'fine, this conflict has come to some conclusion and we're all leaving and going to turn it over to the United Nations'," he told NBC News in an interview.

He also dismissed US intentions to invade other countries, but said Iraq would serve as an "example."

Putin also questioned the US justification for the war being the weapons of mass destruction Washington accused Iraq of harboring.

"It is strange that nothing has been found yet," he said.

US forces inspected sites in western Iraq where banned chemical, biological or nuclear weapons were suspected to have been stored, the head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday.

General Richard Myers told a Defense Department press briefing that intelligence reports showed Iraqi leaders wanting to surrender.

First Published: Apr 12, 2003 09:01 IST