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In Iraq, security, secrets, captures

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Marines left Baghdad on Sunday, turning the security of its eastern half over to the U.S. Army brigade that seized the international airport in heavy fighting two weeks ago.

South of the city, a scientist who said he worked in Iraq's chemical weapons program told a U.S. team that Iraq destroyed its weapons of mass destruction just before the war.

And an Iraqi opposition group said Saddam Hussein's son-in-law and one of the former Iraqi president's bodyguards surrendered to an Iraqi opposition group after returning from hiding in Syria.

The New York Times reported that an unnamed scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq's chemical weapons program for more than a decade told an American military team that Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days before the war began.

Members of Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha said the scientist led Americans to a supply of material that proved to be the building blocks of illegal weapons, which he claimed to have buried as evidence of Iraq's illicit weapons programs.

The scientist also told American weapons experts that Iraq had secretly sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, starting in the mid 1990s, and that more recently Iraq was cooperating with al-Qaida, the newspaper reported, quoting unnamed military officials.

Members of the team, which found the scientist, declined to identify him, saying they feared he might be subject to reprisals. But they said that they considered him credible and that the material unearthed over the last three days at sites to which he led them had proved to be precursors for a toxic agent that is banned by chemical weapons treaties.

The officials described this as their most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons. Their accounts provided an explanation for why U.S. forces had not yet turned up caches of banned weapons in Iraq.

In Baghdad, one of Hussein's sons-in-law, Jamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan al-Tikriti, and the bodyguard turned themselves in to the Iraqi National Congress, a congress spokesman in London said. The men could know where Hussein is, the spokesman said.

Al-Tikriti is married to Hussein's youngest daughter, Hala, and was deputy head of the Tribal Affairs Office. He ranks No. 40 out of the 55 top Iraqi officials sought by the allies.

He was being questioned Sunday by intelligence officers of the Free Iraqi Forces, the congress' armed wing, and would be turned over to the U.S. military in Baghdad "in a matter of hours, not days," said Haider Ahmed, a spokesman for the London-based umbrella group of opponents to the former Iraqi president.

On Saturday, military spokesmen said, U.S. forces seized Hussein's minister of higher education and scientific research, Abd al-Khalq Abd al-Gafar, who ranked 54th on the list. Haider Ahmed, spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, said Abd al-Gafar could know about any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The search for postwar order was reinforced by signs that Syria might help ease regional tensions.

In Texas, flanked by two stoical helicopter crewmen home safe from Iraqi captivity, President Bush said Syria appears to be heeding warnings to avoid becoming a haven for Hussein loyalists.

"They're getting the message," Bush said.

On taking over security in Baghdad, the 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade quickly began making its presence felt, positioning tanks and other armored vehicles around banks, hospitals and other key installations to prevent looting. Patrols of M2 Bradley fighting vehicles and Humvees mounted with machine guns rolled through streets jammed with traffic as tensions eased and Baghdad showed signs of a gradual return to normal.

Despite the greater number of shops open around Baghdad on Sunday, schools remained closed.

"We have not had any reports of looting today," said Col. Will Grimsley, the 1st Brigade commander. He said an 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew imposed two nights ago appears to be helping to reduce the looting, which was rampant in the days after U.S. forces seized the capital.

The redeployment sharply reduces the number of troops in Baghdad. Commanders did not release figures on the size of the reduction.

The Army on Sunday provided security for the arrival of the first convoy of U.N. food aid to reach Baghdad since the U.S. invasion last month. U.N. officials said the 50-truck convoy, which arrived from Jordan after a four-day journey, signified the opening of an aid corridor that should keep Baghdad well supplied with food.

Grimsley said the aid convoy, consisting of 1,400 tons of wheat flour, rice, feed grains and baby formula, would be stored under U.S. protection in a warehouse that troops had found empty, apparently looted. The U.N. shipment, supplied by the World Food Program, is to be distributed early next month.

Word that the shipment had arrived was greeted with relief by Baghdad bakers, who have been growing worried about shortages that have tripled the price of flour since the war began.

The United States has not put a timetable on its occupation but suggested it will take at least six months to reach the next of several steps: establishment of an interim government run by Iraqis.

The American-backed exile leader Ahmad Chalabi said a U.S. military presence is necessary at least until the first election, perhaps two years from now.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it could take at least five years to create a functioning democracy.

"The institution-building process in Iraq is a huge endeavor," he said. "There's not much to work with at this point."

Chalabi also said Iraq's new constitution must not let religious parties establish an Islamic state.

But particularly in the poorer Shiite neighborhoods, the mosques are running services like hospitals, security, buses and garbage trucks.

Many say they are doing it under the direction of the Hawza of Najaf, a Shiite theological school that was the original center of the revolutionary religious theory espoused by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran and his teacher, Imam Muhammad Bakr Sadr, who Shiites say was executed by Hussein in 1999.

Posters in many places proclaim, "The Hawza in Najaf is the only representative of the Iraqi people."

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims were walking to their holy city of Karbala for Ashura ceremonies, long banned under Saddam Hussein. The ceremonies, on Tuesday and Wednesday, are an expression of mourning for their faith's leader, Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, who was killed there by rivals in the year 680 in what became the schism between Sunnis and Shiites.

-- Information from the New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press was used in this report.

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