- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom, made a triumphant visit to Baghdad yesterday, one week after his troops there pulled down a statue of the man he ousted.

"I wanted to get our commanders together in Baghdad because that's been, of course, the center of gravity for this regime while it stood," said Gen. Franks, a first-time visitor. He spoke to reporters after puffing on a victory cigar and meeting with his top field commanders in one of Saddam Hussein's ornate palaces on the Tigris River.

"And as we all recognize, it stands no longer," he said.At the Pentagon, officials said the mission was quickly moving from combat to rebuilding.

One focus is getting Baghdad's electric power back on and bringing badly needed lights and water to 5 million restless inhabitants.

"I think it's transitioning fairly rapidly to support and stability," Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal told reporters at the Pentagon.

In a visit to a St. Louis Boeing factory where the Navy's frontline F-18 Hornet fighter is made, President Bush said it is now time for the United Nations to change policy.

"Now that Iraq is liberated, the United Nations should lift economic sanctions on that country," the president told 1,000 workers who make the supersonic plane that played a prominent role over Iraq.

One day after capturing terrorist Abu Abbas near Baghdad, the Bush administration is sorting out the legal justification to keep him.

Palestinians say he should be released, while Italy wants him extradited.

Meanwhile, the seven rescued American POWs arrived last night at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany aboard a C-141 transport aircraft flying in from Kuwait, the latest stop on their return home after three weeks in Iraqi captivity.

With the exception of two firefights in the northern city of Mosul, Iraq yesterday was mostly devoid of armed clashes on the ground as Gen. Franks' C-130 aircraft touched down at Baghdad International Airport.

When asked whether he had ever been to Baghdad, Gen. Franks said: "No, but I'm a lifelong learner."

At the airport, Gen. Franks saluted, then hugged, his land commander, Lt. Gen. John McKiernan and raised a fist to troops looking on.

"This gives me a chance to meet these people who've been doing such a great job down here," the four-star general said.

Gen. Franks used one of Saddam's bombed-out palaces, the Abu Ghurayb North, to convene a meeting of his top air, land and sea commanders. Sitting on cushions under a gold-and-crystal chandelier, the powerful military men charted Iraq's immediate future.

Symbolically, the mission showed that Central Command's forward headquarters is shifting where it is needed most [-] Baghdad.

"I would anticipate that at some point a joint task force of some type reporting to General Franks will be located within Iraq," Gen. McChrystal said.

"Whether it'll be located in Baghdad proper, I can't say. But at some point, I think as he transitions to the next phase, he will probably recommend and [set] up that kind of headquarters and put it right in, within Iraq."

The general said Iraq is likely to be divided into sectors, with Marine and Army troops responsible for security in those designated areas.

The Marines have worked with Iraqi engineers for a week to return power to Baghdad. Yesterday, the first glimmers appeared as power was delivered to 3,000 homes, Maj. Don Broton said.

Electricity went off April 3 during heavy bombardment. But Central Command says it did not target the grid and suggests that Saddam's regime turned off electricity. Maj. Broton said power to all residents on a rotating basis should begin by tomorrow.

The hunt for regime figures took the Marines yesterday on an early morning raid on the home of Rihab Taha, nicknamed "Dr. Germ" for her research into weaponizing deadly anthrax.

Neither she nor her husband, Gen. Amer Mohammed Rashid, Iraq's former oil minister, was there.

Marines took three guards into custody and walked away with boxes of documents.

Gen. Rashid is on a list of Central Command's 55 most wanted fugitives. His wife is not on the list but is wanted for questioning about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs.

Administration officials, citing intelligence reports, told The Washington Times last week that Mrs. Taha had gone, or was trying to go, to Syria and from there wanted to travel to a third country, possibly France.

"Now that the regime is broken, we are pursuing individuals in order to completely remove the potential of the regime ever returning," said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, a Central Command spokesman.

In Mosul, U.S. Marines traded gunfire with residents for the second straight day, with conflicting accounts of casualties.

Hospital officials in Mosul said 14 persons were killed Tuesday and three more yesterday, with 18 others wounded during the two days. The U.S. Central Command said its troops were involved in a gunbattle and killed seven persons Tuesday, but had no immediate comment on yesterday's events.

U.S. officials believe many of those targeting Americans are Saddam loyalists seeking to inflame Iraqis against the United States.Yesterday's shooting apparently began with an attempt by Iraqi police to drive looters away from the Central Bank, opposite the Mosul governor's office, which was the scene of Tuesday's bloodshed.

In other military action yesterday, U.S. forces bombed bases of a Saddam-backed group opposed to Iran's government. Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told foreign reporters that U.S. forces were pursuing fighters from the Mujahideen Khalq remaining inside Iraq.

"It's possible some of them may surrender very soon to coalition forces, as a matter of fact," Gen. Myers said.

Iranian officials have said they would consider as a positive signal U.S. attacks on the Iraqi bases of the group, which the United States has labeled as terrorist. Gen. Myers declined to comment on the attacks or U.S.-Iranian relations.

Back in Baghdad, after receiving a briefing from his commanders, Gen. Franks toured what used to be one of the 48 palatial residences of Saddam's pampered family. Looking at one of Saddam's gold-plated bathrooms, Gen. Franks said: "It's the oil-for-palace program."He was referring to the now-discarded U.N. oil-for-food program, money from which Saddam and his sons diverted for their own uses.

Gen. McKiernan supplied cigars, and he, Gen. Franks and the other senior officers lit up, savoring the satisfaction of ousting a dictator. Gen. Franks spoke on the telephone to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, then convened another private commanders' meeting before opening the session to reporters.

Back at the airport, Gen. Franks switched from a cigar to his favorite Skoal chewing tobacco for the trip back to Doha, Qatar.

Gen. Franks had plenty of security. His C-130 ride into Baghdad featured an F-15 fighter escort and military personnel sitting in the back to look for anti-aircraft fire. Inside Baghdad, he traveled in a convoy of machine-gun-armed Humvees, with two Apache attack helicopters overhead.

"Every day, we see remnants of what we call Arab fighters or foreign fighters who have come in from a number of other countries," Gen. Franks said."We see them here in Baghdad, and so now we're about the business of rooting them out."


Bill Gertz contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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