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Rumsfeld Addresses Iraqis & U.S. Troops in Baghdad

Rumsfeld Addresses Iraqis & U.S. Troops in Baghdad

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) In the heart of Iraq's capital, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld walked through the massive doorway of one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces to tape a reassuring message to the Iraqi people.

"Iraq belongs to you," he said, his words broadcast on radio and television. "The coalition has no intention of owning or running Iraq."

Later, at a rally with cheering U.S. and British troops, Rumsfeld said the Bush administration is pressing other countries to turn over Iraqi fugitives.

"Some of the countries that had been accepting them previously are no longer accepting them, which is a good start," he said.

As he entered the palace for the taping and a meeting with American commanders, the defense secretary craned his neck to admire a five-story foyer with a chandelier the size of a school bus.

He drove past defaced images of Saddam in a military convoy that mixed with battered cars, pickups and buses carrying city residents.

He visited a power plant on a bank of the Tigris River. It had been restarted with the help of U.S. military engineers.

And he told the troops in an Iraqi Airways hangar at Baghdad International Airport, "You've liberated a people, you've deposed a cruel dictator and you have ended his threat to free nations."

Rumsfeld has insisted his trip is not a "victory tour," waiting for President Bush to make a formal announcement of the end of major combat operations, which is expected Thursday. Some of the commanders in Iraq were less circumspect.

"We won the military fight, clearly," said Maj. Gen. Buford Blount III, the commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which is occupying Baghdad. He said he hoped his division could start returning home by June.

Retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who heads the reconstruction effort in Iraq, said the quick victory prevented the humanitarian crisis he had feared. Americans, Garner said, "ought to be beating our chests every day."

"We ought to look in the mirror, stick out our chests, suck in our bellies, and say, 'Damn, we're Americans,' and smile," Garner said.

During his visit to Saddam's former Abu Ghurayb North Palace, Rumsfeld taped the radio and television message to be broadcast to Iraqis in and around Baghdad by the U.S. military.

U.S. allies from Europe and the Americas met in London Wednesday to discuss sending in troops to help with peacekeeping and reconstruction, said Gen. Gene Renuart, operations director for U.S. Central Command. The United States hopes to put together a coalition force large enough to replace one of the two American divisions planned to be in Iraq during the rebuilding phase, Renuart said.

That force probably would not be ready until August or September, Renuart said.

Rumsfeld also visited the Baghdad South electricity generating station, one of three in the capital that U.S. forces worked with Iraqi experts to restart. Power has been restored to water and sewer pumping stations, a dozen hospitals and about half the capital, Maj. Andy Backus of the Army Corps of Engineers told Rumsfeld.

Other Army engineers said power was not back on in the city's sewage treatment plants, so raw sewage was being dumped into the Tigris.

Backus said the Iraqi electricity grid was fragile and probably collapsed during the war when a few major transmission lines were cut during combat. Another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one challenge in getting the electricity back on was that Saddam kept electrical workers isolated from each other -- the better to be able to cut off power to neighborhoods that displeased him.

Coalition officials said they were afraid that Iraqis would blame the coalition for power and water problems resulting from the country's dilapidated infrastructure.

"I assume the forces of badness will try to use infrastructure as a means of discrediting what we are trying to do to make things better," said Maj. Gen. Robin Brims, the commander of British forces in the southern city of Basra. Rumsfeld had tea with Brims in Basra's airport before flying to Baghdad.

In Baghdad, Rumsfeld said some senior Iraqi officials had fled the country, including several to Syria, in the early days of the war. He said the United States is using diplomatic pressure on Syria and other countries to try to persuade them to turn over those former Iraqi officials.

"My impression is some (countries) that were accepting them are no longer, which is a good start," Rumsfeld told the rally of U.S. troops at Baghdad airport, formerly called Saddam International.

The troops spoke as highly of Rumsfeld as he did of them.

"He doesn't like diplomacy, he doesn't like to mess around, so he's my man," said Marine Cpl. Dave Burton of Baltimore. Burton's unit, the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, saw some of the heaviest combat of the war in the southern cities of Nasiriyah and Kut.

"I haven't had a shower since March 15, and I didn't brush my teeth for a month," Burton said. "That's the life of a Marine grunt."

Blount, who commands 20,000 troops in Baghdad, said the Iraqis distributed Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition shortly before the war, which has contributed to a problem with gangs and other organized crime. American troops take about 40 truckloads of Iraqi ammunition out of Baghdad every day, he said.

Blount said he had visited the remains of a compound south of Baghdad the United States bombed on March 19 in hopes of killing Saddam. He said he didn't find any bodies.

"Finding Saddam is not one of our missions right now, though we'd capture him if we came across him," Blount said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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