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Looking to Rebuild, U.S. Urges End to Iraq Sanctions
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By Rosalind Russell
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Declaring that life is improving in Baghdad one week after U.S. forces marched in, Washington shifted its focus on Thursday from combat to reconstruction and urged an end to U.N. economic sanctions on Iraq (news - web sites).
The White House said the United States would propose a U.N. resolution to end the controversial 13-year-old sanctions "in the near future" and America's U.N. ambassador, John Negroponte, said Washington envisioned a "step-by-step procedure."
The sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait barred all trade with Baghdad but to relieve hardship on the Iraqi people, a U.N. program was established in 1996 that allowed Iraq to sell oil to buy food and essentials.
"Now that Iraq is liberated, the United Nations (news - web sites) should lift sanctions on that country," President Bush (news - web sites) said on Wednesday.
General Tommy Franks, who directed the U.S.-British war that ousted Saddam Hussein (news - web sites), flew to Baghdad airport where the runways are still pockmarked with craters from U.S. bombs.
He met troops and military commanders and gave Bush a progress report via videoconference from one of Saddam's abandoned palaces.
Although relatively calm, there was sporadic violence and looting in Baghdad and a desperate shortage of electricity, water and medical care in the shattered capital.
Franks said water and power were being restored and hospitals were beginning to function again after days of anarchy. "I actually believe it will be better seven days from now," he said.
Australia also judged that the war was winding down and announced that most of the 2,000 military personnel it sent to the Gulf to support U.S. and British forces would start returning home in May.
PRO-AMERICAN IRAQI LEADER BACK IN BAGHDAD
Ahmad Chalabi, a leader of the opposition Iraqi National Congress and a favorite with the Pentagon (news - web sites), became the first major exile politician to return to Baghdad since Saddam's fall, an adviser said.
The aide, Zaab Sethna, said Chalabi would meet community and religious leaders and coordinate his activities with Jay Garner, the retired American general overseeing the effort to rebuild Iraq. "His first plan is to see his old home and then start building democracy in Iraq," said Sethna.
U.S. officials announced steps to put Iraq's civil service back to work, saying the interim U.S. administration would pay Iraqi civil servants within days.
"Our number one goal is to try to let economic activity begin to happen as quickly as possible," said one official.
The U.S. military said it hoped to get Iraqi oil fields pumping at two thirds of prewar levels within eight weeks.
American Marines launched raids around Baghdad in search of people linked to Saddam, who has vanished along with his two sons, Uday and Qusay, and most of his ruling elite.
One of Bush's top aides, White House chief of staff Andrew Card, said in an online discussion he believed Saddam was dead.
"I think he's dead," Card told a Web chat group in response to questions. "The good news is that his regime is no longer a threat to the people of Iraq nor to the U.S. or our allies."
A senior U.S. official said later he was unaware of any evidence confirming whether Saddam was dead or alive and the United States had "not reached any conclusion at this point."
No weapons of mass destruction, Bush's main justification for the invasion of Iraq, have been found and only two of the 55 people on the U.S. "most wanted" list have been caught.
SYRIA'S WEAPONS PROPOSAL
At the United Nations, Syria circulated a draft resolution in the Security Council to help transform the Middle East into a "zone free of weapons of mass destruction."
Apparently responding to U.S. accusations that it has given sanctuary to Saddam associates and developed chemical weapons, Syria said it would welcome initiatives to rid the Middle East of such weapons, "in particular nuclear weapons."
The Syrian proposal appeared to have little short-term chance of acceptance as it primarily targets Israel, which is widely assumed to have nuclear weapons.
Nearly four weeks after the U.S.-led invasion was launched, there were still some clashes between Iraqis and U.S. troops.
In the northern town of Mosul, three people were killed and several wounded when U.S. soldiers opened fire. The incident came a day after seven Iraqis were killed by American troops who tried to stop a crowd from storming a government complex.
The Pentagon raised the number of U.S. troops killed in the war to 125, two more than the previous day. The number of wounded U.S. troops was steady at 495 and three were listed as missing. Thirty British soldiers were killed and 74 wounded.
Iraqi military and civilian casualties are unknown but are believed to run into thousands.
In Athens, European Union (news - web sites) leaders said they wanted to work together and with the United States to rebuild Iraq.
The European leaders are trying to come up with a way, acceptable to Washington, that would give United Nations and the EU a role in rebuilding Iraq.
Washington hailed the capture in Baghdad of Abu Abbas, former leader of the Palestine Liberation Front and mastermind of the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, as proof of a link between Saddam and terrorism.
The Palestinian Authority (news - web sites) demanded Abbas' release, but Italy said it would seek his extradition.
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