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Blair praises troops in first Iraq visit

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 30, 2003

BASRA, Iraq - Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain on Thursday became the first foreign leader to visit postwar Iraq after a quick stop in this strategic city in the south, which Blair said British soldiers had seized in war and are rebuilding in relative peace.

"You fought the battle, you won the battle, and you fought it with great courage and valor," Blair told several hundred troops on the grounds of a grand palace that less than two months ago had been one of the many homes of Saddam Hussein.

"But it didn't stop there. You then went on to try to make something of the country you had liberated. And I think that's a lesson for armed forces everywhere, the world over."

The prime minister, who came under fierce political attack at home for joining the American-led war, portrayed his visit here not as a victory tour but as a tribute to British troops, especially those who died in the fight.

"This wasn't the pretend stuff that happens in films," Blair said.

Officer: No bunker where U.S. thought Hussein was

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. troops have found no sign of bodies or a bunker at the site where intelligence had said Saddam Hussein was sleeping on the war's opening night, a senior officer said Thursday.

Acting on an intelligence tip, U.S. forces launched their campaign on March 20 by firing more than 40 Tomahawk missiles on Dora Farms, a neighborhood south of Baghdad.

"We looked real hard," said Col. Tim Madere, an unconventional weapons specialist with the Army's V Corp. "We didn't find any bodies or bunkers," he said a day after visiting the site.

Troops raid Palestinian mission in Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. troops raided the Palestinian Authority's mission in Baghdad and arrested 11 people after ransacking the building, a Palestinian official said Thursday. A top U.S. general said eight people were arrested.

The detained men included charge d'affairs Majah Abdul Rahman, who was running the mission in the ambassador's absence, mission official Mohamed Abdul Wahab said. They were taken to a U.S. base in the center of the city and have not been released, he said.

U.S. troops have conducted numerous sweeps against suspected criminals and loyalists of Saddam Hussein's regime. Wednesday's raid was believed to be the first such action against a foreign diplomatic mission.

Iraq Airways close to resuming service

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's national carrier, hard hit by two wars and 13 years of U.N. sanctions, is preparing to resume service after a three-month hiatus, its management said Thursday.

In an announcement to employees, Iraq Airways officials said the once-profitable company was working with the U.S.-led coalition to get flying.

The statement said the U.S.-led Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance was working to complete the technical preparations that would enable flights to resume.

Also . . .

REWARD MONEY SOUGHT: Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida backed a "sense of the Senate" resolution urging Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to use his authority to offer rewards for information about missing military personnel, including Navy pilot Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, who was shot down over Iraq in 1991.

FOOD PROGRAM TO RESUME: A food-rationing program introduced by Saddam Hussein's government because of international sanctions against Iraq will resume next week, more than two months after it was disrupted by war.

Iraqis will be able to get food from nearly 45,000 distributors across the country starting Sunday, Khaled Mansour of the U.N. World Food Program said. The program is to last five months but could be extended.

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