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Last Updated: Monday, 14 April, 2003, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
War 'close to end' after Tikrit seized
US Marines pass by a mural of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein as they move into Tikrit
US forces encountered little resistance as they entered Tikrit
US Central Command says the war in Iraq is "coming to a close" after US troops took control of the northern city of Tikrit, the hometown of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Brigadier-General Vincent Brooks told reporters in military HQ in Doha: "Clearly we are at a point when the decisive military operations that were focused on removing the regime... that work is coming to a close".

The Pentagon has confirmed that it is withdrawing two of its three aircraft carriers in the Gulf this week.

Order is gradually being restored to cities including Baghdad - after days of looting following the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime - with US-Iraqi joint patrols beginning work on Monday.

More than 2,000 Iraqi policemen are reported to have answered a US call for officers from the old regime to return to work.

US troops accompanied Iraqi squad cars in the capital, while order was also restored in the northern cities of Kirkuk and Mosul, which fell to Kurdish fighters in the last several days.

"We're beginning to see a downward trend in looting," said Central Command spokesman Captain Frank Thorpe.

In other developments:

  • US Secretary of State Colin Powell says economic sanctions are being considered against Syria, which Washington accuses of giving haven to Saddam Hussein officials and developing chemical weapons

  • Former Iraqi Interior Minister Watban Ibrahim al-Tikriti - a half-brother of Saddam Hussein - has been captured near the Syrian border and flown by US helicopter to an unknown location for interrogation

  • Medical staff treating a badly burned Iraqi boy who lost both his arms in a coalition strike have appealed for immediate help to get him out of the country for specialist treatment

  • US forces take the town of Qaim on the Syrian border, suspected of harbouring weapons of mass destruction, after fighting two weeks of fierce fighting - although no traces of WMD have been found

  • Officials of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been given clearance to send a mission to Iraq to assess its rebuilding needs

  • An armed mob surrounding the Najaf house of a pro-Western Shia cleric, Ayatollah Mirza Ali Sistani, disbands just hours ahead of a deadline given for him to leave the country.

No resistance

Backed by helicopters and war planes, US marines and armoured vehicles have taken up positions on a central square in Tikrit, which had been the last Iraqi city controlled by the former regime.

Central Tikrit on Sunday

The BBC's Dumeetha Luthra in Tikrit says that contrary to predictions there was no dramatic last stand by Iraqi forces. She says the city is quiet, with shops boarded up and streets deserted.

The troops moved into position after patchy resistance from supporters of Saddam Hussein, in which 20 Iraqis were killed.

Our correspondent says the coalition forces on the ground are now moving around the city centre checking buildings where supporters of Saddam Hussein could be hiding, while numerous helicopters patrol the skies.

There is fighting outside the city, further to the north, where it seems the loyalists have been pushed out of Tikrit and up towards the north, our correspondent adds.

Baghdad battle

In Baghdad US marines were involved in a gun battle early on Monday.

The exchange occurred outside the Palestine Hotel - where many international journalists are staying. After the battle marines took away at least one man.

In cities which have already fallen to coalition forces, the US military has promised to take steps to restore law and order after the collapse of the regime led to widespread looting and violence.

In Baghdad the BBC's Andrew Gilligan says thanks to foot patrols by the US troops some sense of calm and normality is returning to parts of the city, with shops re-opening for business.

But our correspondent says that some are concerned about the discipline of some American troops.

One doctor told the BBC that they had deliberately fired on his hospital and on an ambulance, even though there were no Iraqi fighters in the vicinity.

The BBC's James Coomarasamy
"Iraq is still awash with conventional weapons"

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