- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar Gen. Tommy Franks said yesterday that coalition forces have begun recovering some of the artifacts looted from Iraqi museums thefts that sparked international criticism that the United States could have done more to protect such sites.

In an interview with the Associated Press, the commander of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf region said that over the past four days Iraqis had started informing coalition forces of the artifacts' whereabouts.

More than 100 items have been returned, including priceless manuscripts, a 7,000-year-old vase and one of the oldest recorded bronze bas-relief bulls, U.S. Central Command said.

It said one man returned a chest filled with priceless manuscripts and parchments to a nearby mosque. A local pianist returned 10 pieces including a broken statue of an Assyrian king dated to the 9th century B.C., and the bas-relief.

"Over the last 96 hours we have had a whole lot of Iraqis contact our people up in Iraq and say actually [they] know where a great many of these artifacts are," Gen. Franks said in a satellite hookup from his Gulf command post here with the annual meeting of the news cooperative in Seattle.

"Over the past three days we have been collecting artifacts," Gen. Franks said. "At the appropriate time we'll place them back in the museums for the Iraqi people," he added in a follow-up interview after the broadcast.

He said ordinary Iraqis had told U.S. forces that they wanted the items in coalition hands, not with Ba'ath Party members who were responsible for managing the museums and are accused of spiriting the artifacts away.

Gen. Franks touched on many issues in the interview, including the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, plans to reorganize the U.S. military presence in the Gulf, and the status of Saddam Hussein and his sons.

"Today I don't know whether Hussein and his sons are alive or dead," Gen. Franks said. "I have seen nothing over the last week or two that convinces me that he is alive."

On the military presence in the region, the general said that with the collapse of the Iraqi regime, he suspects there will be some "reorientation and some reorganization" of U.S. forces in the Gulf.

Specifically, he said the United States no longer needs to fly aircraft out of Turkey and Saudi Arabia to patrol the northern and southern "no-fly" zones over Iraq, which was established to keep Saddam's military in check.

He said the hunt for banned weapons continues at 950 to 1,000 sites around Iraq, but said he didn't know if about a dozen 55-gallon drums found Saturday near Baiji north of Baghdad contained any banned chemical weapons.

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