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Electricity restored to large parts of Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq—The lights came back on in parts of Baghdad on Tuesday, and Iraq's Shiite Muslims celebrated their new religious freedom with a massive pilgrimage, but hostilities continued in several areas of the country, especially in the northern city of Mosul.

Marines at the Mosul airfield faced gunfire overnight Monday and numerous weapons caches were being identified throughout the city, according to field commanders' preliminary reports radioed to the Army's V Corps headquarters at Baghdad International Airport.

In contrast, central and southern Iraq, which have had little recent military action, were the scenes of celebration as hundreds of thousands of Shiites walked to Karbala waving green, red and gold flags in honor of Imam Hussein and deceased relatives, while shouting rhythmic tributes in a demonstration banned by Saddam.

The pilgrimage and 40-day observance, which were banned under Saddam, mark the killing of Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad, in 680 A.D. in Karbala.

Tuesday was a combination rally for religious freedom and opportunity for young Shiites to show that they learned the teachings of their parents and clerics—even under a repressive government. Followers of rival Shiite leaders also launched into de facto chanting contests with slogans of praise for Hussein. While hitting their chests with a thunderous hollow clap every fourth beat, they charged toward the shrines of Hussein and his half brother, Abbas, in 95-degree heat.

In Baghdad, large sections of the city had electricity restored. One of the main city plant's four smokestacks began belching out a steady black smoke Monday. Just after 9 a.m. Tuesday, power came on in central Baghdad and in areas scattered through the city.

Plant officials cautioned that no more than 10 percent of the city has power, and that the rest of the city would have to wait weeks, if not months.

Northern Iraq, however, remains uneasy. Coalition forces were expecting ambushes and sniper activity in Mosul to increase as U.S. troops attempt to gain more control of northern Iraq, as Jay Garner, the retired U.S. general overseeing the postwar reconstruction of Iraq, began a tour of the region.

Garner, 65, arrived in Suleimaniyah, about 150 miles southeast of Mosul, to a warm and well-orchestrated reception Tuesday. He received a huge bouquet of flowers and was showered with rose petals as he worked his way through a receiving line of political dignitaries.

Later, in a speech to university students, he said the political system and autonomy in Kurdistan was "wonderful" and "a model" for the rest of Iraq. "What you have achieved here in the last 12 years is marvelous," he said.

Garner and his team are scheduled to head on Wednesday to Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, where they are planning to establish an administrative center. Garner said Tuesday that there are plans to set up a committee to settle disputes between Arabs and Kurds, who have been clashing over property and homeownership rights since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

But coalition troops do not have full control of the area.

For the past week, U.S. armored vehicles and tanks have steadily moved north, clearing the way for infantry units that will follow to search the towns for enemy forces. The task force also continues to secure airstrips from northern Kuwait to Mosul for the 101st Airborne Division, which is ferrying soldiers into that northern city.

Some in the task force warn that there might be some fighting left. They point to recent clashes between U.S. troops and some remaining paramilitary fighters.

On Monday, soldiers from an infantry unit killed 16 Iraqi fighters in a gun battle at a paramilitary roadblock in Tikrit before capturing 10 others, according to a division spokesman. The fight came one day after tanks and armored carriers from the 10th Cavalry secured an airstrip in the Baath Party stronghold.

In another area where coalition forces have not had much presence, a Jordanian convoy transporting a large field hospital to Baghdad was fired upon while passing near Ramadi, a city about 60 miles west of the Iraqi capital, according to V Corps reports.

Security in Baghdad itself was described as continuing to improve and the environment characterized as "permissive." But health and welfare were improving, with a blood bank in eastern Baghdad fully operational and low level violence and criminal activity declining. Gang activity and political maneuvering continued.

Meanwhile Jamal Nustafa Abdullah Sultan al Tikriti, the former deputy chief of tribal affairs and No. 40 on a list of 55 Iraqi leaders, was turned over to the coalition forces by the Iraqi National Congress, U.S. Central Command announced Tuesday.

Eight members of the list have now surrendered or been captured. Tikriti is the first to be turned over by the Iraqi National Congress, a group of exiles that had long been pushing for Saddam's removal.

"We certainly have been working them," U.S. Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told reporters at coalition headquarters in Qatar. "That was a useful role that they played."

Brooks dismissed reports of Saddam sightings in Baghdad. "We don't have any current, credible intelligence that tells us that."

Iraqi National Congress members have said that Saddam is hiding in an area between Baghdad and the eastern border. An Army operations officer said it was more likely that one of Saddam's "body doubles" was seen in the area.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Meg Laughlin and Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ