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Marines take tikrit 7 pows found { April 14 2003 }

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   http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/04/14/MN300642.DTL

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/04/14/MN300642.DTL

7 missing U.S. POWs freed -- Marines coast into Tikrit
RESISTANCE FADES: Iraqis don't put up much fight
Mark Abel, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, April 14, 2003
2003 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback

The spirits of allied forces soared Sunday with the discovery of seven American prisoners of war missing for three weeks, and U.S. Marines met only light resistance as they pushed into Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

The encouraging events coincided with tentative signs that the chaos engulfing Baghdad was beginning to abate, and a warning by President Bush to Syria's authoritarian government that it "needs to cooperate" by refusing a safe haven to officials of the deposed regime in Iraq.

Bush also accused Syria of possessing chemical weapons, the first time that charge has been made by the administration. There was some confusion about whether the president was saying that the Syrians had developed a chemical weapons program or that they had allowed Iraq to stash some of its alleged supply of chemical arms there.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also said Sunday that Syria had harbored Iraqi fugitives and allowed "busloads" of Syrian mercenaries to cross into Iraq to fight allied soldiers.

Neither he nor Bush, however, threatened military force against Syria, whose leaders have denied all the U.S. accusations.

Bush spoke for millions of Americans cheered by the rescue of the POWs when he declared at the White House: "Today is a great day for the families, comrades, loved ones of the seven missing in action who are free. I'm really pleased."


SURVIVORS OF NASIRIYA ATTACK
The freed prisoners included two Apache Longbow helicopter pilots, Chief Warrant Officers Ronald Young, 26, of suburban Atlanta, and David Williams, 31,

of Fort Hood, Texas.

The others were members of the Army's ill-fated 507th Maintenance Company convoy, which was ambushed in Nasiriya on March 23: Sgt. James Riley, 31, of Pennsauken, N.J.; Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30, of El Paso, Texas; Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23, of Alamogordo, N.M.; Spc. Edgar Hernandez, 21, of Mission, Texas; and Pfc. Patrick Miller, 23, of suburban Wichita, Kan.

Another soldier from the 507th, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, 19, of Palestine, W.Va.,

was rescued from a hospital in an April 2 commando raid and is recuperating.

Nine members of the convoy were killed in the Nasiriya attack, which was perhaps the first to bring home the dangers of the battlefield to many Americans watching the conflict from the safety of their living rooms.


IRAQIS ARRANGED POWS' RESCUE
U.S. forces had been working tirelessly to find the seven POWs, who had been moved around since their capture -- 270 miles to the north, as it turned out. But Sunday's rescue came as a gift from some good-hearted Iraqis.

Near the small town of Sammara, about 70 miles north of Baghdad, a group of soldiers from the Marine 3rd Armed Reconnaissance Battalion were heading toward Tikrit when they were tipped off by local police officers who told them they were holding the Americans in a house nearby after their superiors had fled the U.S. advance.

"The guards evidently were deserted by their officers, and the guards themselves brought the prisoners of war to the (attention of the) Marines," said Lt. Col. Nick Morano, senior watch commander at Marine headquarters southeast of Baghdad.

The moment of liberation came abruptly, as the Marines kicked in the doors of the house.

When Johnson, who was shot in the ankle and the only woman among the group, realized that she would see her daughter again, she broke down. "I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm going home!' " she said.


'WE WON THE LOTTERY OF LIFE'
Three of the seven suffered gunshot wounds during their ordeal, but Morano declared that they were in good shape.

"We feel like we won the lottery of life," said Young, the pilot.

The families of the POWs were ecstatic at the news, their sentiments summed up by Young's father, who watched video footage back home in Lithia Springs, Ga.

"It's him, and I'm just so happy that I could kiss the world!" said Ronald Young Sr. "It's him! It's definitely him."


LITTLE RESISTANCE IN TIKRIT
The battle for Tikrit, the last major city controlled by Hussein's imploding regime, was unfolding slowly amid signs that the dispirited Iraqis would not put up much of a fight there, either.

The U.S. force moving into the area, code-named Task Force Tripoli, destroyed five manned Iraqi tanks on Tikrit's outskirts, according to Matthew Fisher, a Canadian journalist embedded with the Marines.

The U.S. troops went on to kill at least 15 members of an Iraqi infantry unit in a fierce gunbattle, Fisher said.

Because Hussein has so many personal ties to Tikrit and made it a center of lavish patronage, it had long been anticipated that the Republican Guard might make a bloody last stand there.

But reports from inside the city indicated that most of Hussein's loyalists had already fled.

"I wouldn't say it's over," General Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, told CNN. "But I will say we have American forces in Tikrit right now. "

The Al-Jazeera satellite network reported that local tribal groups offered to negotiate a "peaceful solution" with U.S. forces and hand over some local Baath Party leaders.

There was still no sign, however, of Hussein or any of those closest to him.

Though U.S. officials often publicly play down the significance of capturing the dictator, his disappearing act could bolster the perception among some Muslims that he is a mythical figure who defied the United States, even in defeat.

U.S. officials said forensics experts have DNA samples that could be used to match any remains of Hussein found at sites where bomb and missile attacks could have killed him.

A half brother of Hussein, Watban Ibrahim Hasan, was in U.S. custody, apprehended while fleeing toward the Syrian border.


GRENADE WOUNDS U.S. SOLDIERS
In Baghdad on Sunday, 16 American soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were wounded when a grenade was thrown into a compound in the southern suburb of Mahmidiya. Two of the injuries were serious, one to the eye and one to the groin, according to medical officials.

But overall conditions in the looting-plagued capital were said to be stabilizing.

Some shops reopened, and bus service was restored in some areas. U.S. civil affairs officers conferred with Iraqi officials about how to rebuild the abandoned police and fire departments.

The New York Times reported that volunteers wearing face masks and rubber gloves were collecting corpses on the streets and carrying them away for burial.

"If we don't do it, nobody else will," said Ali Ahmed Hamid, a volunteer working near the al-Jumhuriya bridge.

Compiled from Chronicle news services. / E-mail Mark Abel at markabel@sfchronicle.com.

2003 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback

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