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ARKIB : 17/04/2003

World waits for General Franks to declare Iraq war over

AS-SALIYAH April 16 - Like the proverbial fat lady whose singing indicates that the show is over, General Tommy Franks is the focus of attention as the world awaits formal word that the war he led in Iraq has ended.

With combat operations all but finished by Wednesday, day 28 of the conflict, that announcement could come any day now.

But military officials are cautious not to second-guess the powerful four-star general who went to Baghdad for the first time on Wednesday.

``I have no estimate, I have no guess as to when the announcement will come. I can't see inside the general's head,'' Major Rumi Nielson-Green said at the As-Saliyah, Qatar, war command headquarters.

She did indicate, however, that it seemed certain the announcement would come from Franks, even though the tall Texan commander is known to shun the limelight.

``I think at some point he will make this determination,'' Nielson-Green said, pointing out that President George W. Bush had made it clear the war is over when General Franks says so.

``I would think it will be much sooner rather than later,'' said British Lieutenant Colonel Ronnie McCourt.

Asked whether that meant days rather than weeks, he said: ``I would hope so.''

``The danger is leaving it too late, which could allow civil disruptions to come up, or to do it too early, and when we get the humanitarian aid in and people start taking potshots or try to ambush,'' he said.

``That's a fine balance, not an exact science.''

Central Command will not say where the announcement would be made, but Centcom said Franks was in Baghdad Wednesday.

Keen to be seen as a liberating rather than occupying force, the US military has said the capital visit would be low-key, as would any announcement formally ending the war.

``I'm not looking to have a victory parade in downtown Baghdad,'' Franks told Fox News television on Sunday.

While the war could be declared over any time now, Centcom stressed that Iraq remains an unsafe place.

``There is still an inherent risk,'' said Nielson-Green, adding that ``in some cases, bullets are flying around.''

US forces Wednesday admitted firing on a crowd of demonstrators Tuesday in the northern city of Mosul, killing ``around seven'', claiming they had come under fire.

A hospital source said 15 people were killed Tuesday and 28 wounded, and four more were reported killed in another shooting incident in Mosul on Wednesday.

Nielson-Green said that while US soldiers still faced pockets of resistance, these were ``not coherent or strategically significant.''

McCourt, for his part, cautioned that ``there may be in some little village in a hill somewhere, for all I know, some people with RPG-7s and Kalashnikovs who are ready to come out and say 'no we haven't finished'.''

But Nielson-Green warned the country may never be totally safe, pointing out that even in the United States ``there's shootings going on every day.''

MEANWHILE in BAGHDAD, after a week of uncertainty, an increasing number of Iraqis returned to work Wednesday, with priority on repairing the electricity, water and other vital utilities which went down in the final days of the US air campaign.

Normal life was picking up in Baghdad, with traffic jams clogging some streets, businesspeople cautiously reopening their stores and hawkers again selling fresh produce on the sidewalks.

But smoke still rose from a number of public buildings, with the bomb damage providing a stark reminder that little more than a week ago this city was still engulfed by war.

The capital of five million people still needs power and running water if it is to return to day-to-day routine completely.

``The priority among priorities is electricity,'' said Osama Zubeidi, an electrical engineer who came to US forces' coordination office at the Palestine Hotel in hopes of resuming his work.

Zubeidi was among 200,000 employees of Iraq's state-run power company, of whom 50,000 were based in Baghdad. He said he decided to return to his duties after seeing ``an overall improvement in the security situation''.

No less than 2,000 workers were already on the ground doing repairs and much of Baghdad's electricity should be back on in a week, said Zubeidi's colleague Ibrahim Saidi, citing information from power company authorities.

Saidi, a works engineer, believed the most pressing need to bring back electricity was to repair major power lines.

Zubeidi and Saidi paid a visit to the major power plant, Al-Dura in southwestern Baghdad, which they said was in good shape and untouched by coalition air strikes.

Water is already back on in certain parts of Baghdad including the central area of Al-Mansur and, farther south, the Saydia quarter, with taps running for a few hours a day, according to residents.

A return of electricity would also help Baghdad's water woes by bringing power to the distribution system.

As for the police, who disappeared from the streets when Saddam Hussein's regime crumbled April 9, the number of candidates looking to return to the job has steadily increased.

``There were 100 on Sunday, 400 on Monday and the number hasn't stopped growing,'' said Lieutenant Abdul Wahed Rifai, who was one of the first to join the ranks of Baghdad's post-Saddam police force.

``Ten joint patrols with the marines were sent onto the streets Tuesday and there are 19 today (Wednesday),'' said Rifai, a former police academy instructor.

But he cautioned that the return of police would not be enough to completely end the looting that has ravaged Baghdad since the US forces' arrival. The new police are unarmed and do not have any detention centers in which to place miscreants, he said.

For many workers who were paid by the state under Saddam's socialist-influenced system, the concern is whether they will still be receiving their salaries, said Bashar Abbas, a doctor who has stayed at his post at the downtown Al-Khazimya hospital.

He said several of his colleagues who left during the war were hoping to resume their jobs soon but lacked reliable transportation.

``Thousands of cars have been stolen and people no longer have a way to get to work,'' he said.

The emergency specialist said he has sometimes operated with a gun over his shoulder to guard against the looters. For now, he does not believe the issue of a post-Saddam transitional government is the most pressing.

``That's a question for later. What's important now is to get the country back to work,'' he said. - AFP

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