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Oil to Syria shut down; forces head home

By PAMELA HESS, UPI Pentagon Correspondent   |   April 15, 2003 at 8:33 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, April 15 (UPI) -- U.S. forces have disabled a pipeline that has been delivering oil from Iraq to Syria in violation of a U.N. embargo, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday.

"I cannot assure you that all illegal oil flowing from Iraq into Syria is shut off; I just hope it is," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news conference.

The 11 suspected chemical and biological laboratories found in trailers buried near Karbala are not "smoking guns" in the search for Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction program, CNN reported Tuesday. An Army expert on chemical and biological weapons said tests indicated the laboratories were more likely intended to be used in the creation of conventional munitions.

Rumsfeld also announced the Army's 1st Cavalry Division based in Fort Hood, Texas, will not deploy to Iraq because operations are switching from war fighting to stabilization. The heavily armored 1st Cavalry was slated to deploy to reinforce or relieve front-line combat troops had the ground war lasted longer.

The U.S. military earlier this week declared an end to a decade-long mission in Turkey: Operation Northern Watch, the enforcement of the northern no-fly zone in Iraq from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. The first four years of the mission were called "Operation Provide Comfort" and were focused on the protection of the Kurdish minority. The base hosted more than 1,400 U.S., British and Turkish service members at any one time, most of them Air Force, and around 50 aircraft.

The last two fighters -- F-16CJs from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. -- left Incirlik April 12. The last Operation Northern Watch mission was flown March 17.

Rumsfeld said the Pentagon is reconsidering its entire military "footprint" in the Middle East.

U.S aircraft in Saudi Arabia continue to fly missions in support of the ongoing war in Iraq.

The USS Kitty Hawk and USS Constellation aircraft carriers and many stealth fighters and bombers have also been recalled, according to the Navy. The USS Lincoln aircraft carrier has already left the Persian Gulf. Only the USS Nimitz remains in the area. Two carriers -- the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the Harry S. Truman -- remain in the eastern Mediterranean.

Rumsfeld said only a few Iraqi towns and cities remain contested and U.S. forces are working through those areas.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers said the situation in Kirkuk in northern Iraq is calm; Peshmerga Kurdish fighters have left the city. They were of some concern to neighboring Turkey.

Myers said Mosul is "a little less calm but still very stable."

U.S. Central Command announced Tuesday that it is investigating allegations U.S. forces fired on a crowd of civilians there.

Rumsfeld credited the speed of the attack and that it was so different from the 1991 Persian Gulf War campaign with the quick fall of Baghdad and Saddam Hussein's regime.

"It's entirely possible when people are interviewed after this is all over that we'll find that they did not expect a ground war to start before an air war and they did not expect a ground war to start without the 4th Infantry Division while it was still up in the Mediterranean," Rumsfeld said.

Turkey had refused the United States permission to base some 60,000 troops in Turkey to open a northern front against Iraq.

"But we do know that because of the way General Franks conducted the conflict, a lot of bad things didn't happen," Rumsfeld said, ticking off the small number of oil wells set fire to, the low number of displaced people, and the relatively limited amount of damage to civilian homes as evidence. "There's just a whole list of things that didn't go wrong, that could have been terrible and didn't happen, because of the way that General Franks and his team conducted that."

There are no burning oil wells in Iraq, according to U.S. Central Command.

But combat is not over yet. U.S. forces continue to hunt down weapons and Iraqi regime leaders. In a western village, special operations forces captured three former "regime death squad members," according to Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, U.S. Central Command spokesman in Qatar. Local people led the soldiers to the men.

Special operations forces also found 80 SA-2 or SA-3 surface-to-air missiles.

Army forces found a weapons cache with 91 cases of TNT and plastic explosives, six homemade bombs, and 23 cases of rocket-propelled grenades, according to Brooks. Local people then led them to 10 smaller caches of ammunition and weapons.

The lion's share of the military effort, however, is now focused on stabilization and laying the foundation to rebuild the government free of Saddam Hussein and Baath party influence.

"There's no question but that this country's got to go through a de-Baathification process," Rumsfeld said.

That effort got a formal start Tuesday on the outskirts of An Nasiriyah at a U.S.-sponsored meeting of some 100 Iraqis, mostly Shiite Muslims. The meeting took place near Ziggurat, one of the Arab world's most famed archaeological ruins in Ur.

The meeting also engendered a protest by several thousand Iraqis, which Rumsfeld said was a positive sign of democracy taking hold.

"People demonstrate in the United States and boycott political rallies and things; that's what free people do. And it ought not to come as a surprise," he said.

In Qatar, Brooks expressed similar sentiments.

"We certainly would want there to be no civil unrest, any violence. But the right for them to express their opinion is something that we believe is a good news story and a trend perhaps for the future," he said.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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