INTERNATIONAL

Tikrit likely to be next focus

AS SAYLIAH (Qatar) April 9. Amid scenes of jubilation, looting and chaos that demonstrated that the Iraqi regime's hold over Baghdad was fast crumbling, the U.S. forces, moving unimpeded in the Iraqi capital, have carved out a security corridor that bisects the city. But at his daily briefing, Vincent Brooks, spokesperson of the U.S. Central Command cautioned that fighting in Baghdad was not yet over. He, however, indicated that not much resistance was now expected in Baghdad and the U.S. military focus could well shift to Tikrit — a city 185 km. north of Baghdad.

But Gen. Brooks indicated, that the Iraqi resistance in Tikrit, despite being the birthplace of the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, was likely to be similar to that encountered by U.S. forces in other cities.

As the process of accomplishing "regime change" in Iraq gathers momentum, there is considerable speculation about the whereabouts of Mr. Hussein and his sons, Uday and Qusay. Indications are emerging that Mr. Hussein and his sons went underground, on April 5, when U.S. tanks entered Baghdad. The three have subsequently detached themselves from the rest of the Iraqi leadership and have been reportedly maintaining complete electronic silence, in order to conceal their location.

According to one view, Mr. Hussein has shifted to Tikrit, while there is another suggestion, that he has made a pre-planned exit to a neighbouring country.

The dramatic U.S. advance in Saddam city, the eastern Shia dominated district east of the river Tigris in Baghdad, began after the arrival on Tuesday of the U.S. first marine expeditionary force.

Despite its arrival 48 hours being schedule — a fact that led to removal of Joe Dowdy, a Colonel, from its command, this formation moved quickly to close Baghdad's eastern gates after setting up its base at the abandoned Rashid air station.

While this formation advanced from the eastern side, cutting across Saddam city where it was received with much jubilation, elements of the U.S. third infantry division reportedly moved from the western bank of the river Tigris, closing the pincer. Besides the U.S. troops coming from the direction of the airport in northwest Baghdad and others who advanced from the south east also joined this coordinated thrust that bisected Baghdad. More U.S. troops, especially elements belonging to the 4th Infantry Division, are now flowing in to strengthen the U.S. troop presence in Baghdad, or to relieve elements of the 101st Airborne division that has been involved in non-stop combat from 21 days.