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Iraq: U.S. Forces In Tikrit; American Prisoners Of War Found

Prague, 13 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. troops entered Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit today meeting little resistance, while U.S. war planes resumed their air raids around the city. Colonel Larry Brown, operations officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said elements of a U.S. Marine task force had entered Tikrit -- a power center for Iraq's minority Sunni Muslims who have dominated the government.

Several U.S. officials, including President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today warned Syria not to harbor Iraqi leaders fleeing across the border.

Bush did not threaten military action against Iraq's neighbor, but said there is the belief that Syria has chemical weapons.

"I think that we believe there are chemical weapons in Syria, for example. Each situation will require a different response. First things first. We're here in Iraq now and the second thing about Syria is that we expect cooperation. And I'm hopeful that we'll receive cooperation."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said today that once the fighting is over, U.S.-led forces will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Talking about postwar Iraq, Rumsfeld said he welcomes a peacekeeping role for NATO in Iraq and that "lots of countries," including Muslim nations, have expressed a desire to assist in Baghdad's reconstruction.

Powell said the U.S. has not appointed anyone to be the future leader of Iraq. He said the U.S. is not, quote, "in the business of installing the next president of Iraq."

The Pentagon raised the death toll among American troops fighting in Iraq to 115 and said 400 had been wounded in action in the 3-week war.

Five American troops remain missing, but the number of prisoners of war was cut to zero today after seven U.S. Army soldiers were rescued by Marines in Iraq when they were abandoned by Iraqi forces. The 115 American war deaths, including 103 killed in action with Iraqi forces, was an increase of one from yesterday after the status of the pilot of a Navy attack jet was changed from missing to killed in action. His jet was lost over Iraq 11 days ago.