Congress members visit Iraq; weapons caches seized in Tikrit

Monday, September 29, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Members of Congress took a tour of Iraq's dilapidated infrastructure Sunday, getting a firsthand look at the daunting task of rebuilding the nation before they vote on President Bush's $87 billion funding request.

Meanwhile, Iraqi police and U.S. forces seized weapons in Baghdad and the north of the country after a small but symbolic rocket attack on a U.S. compound in the Iraqi capital.

Rep. Jim Walsh, a New York Republican and member of the 17-member Congressional delegation visiting Iraq, said at the end of the daylong tour that the lawmakers were convinced Iraq has "tremendous potential" despite the "tremendous amount of damage done to the country by Saddam Hussein."

"But it becomes very clear that the American public needs to be very patient with Iraq, there is a long way to go," Walsh said.

Iraqi help

The U.S. lawmakers appealed to Iraqis to help establish security and work closely with the Coalition forces.

"We are not going to be able to make this country safe without the help of Iraqi people, in every village, in every area of the country" said Rep. Todd Tiahrt, a Kansas Republican.

After visiting Baghdad, the delegation flew to the northern city of Mosul, where Lewis told reporters he expected most of his colleagues to support the administration's $87 billion spending request despite reservations in both the House and Senate.

As the U.S. military continues efforts to pacify the country five months after Bush declared an end to major combat, a spokesman said soldiers had conducted nine raids and 1,517 patrols and detained 74 Iraqis in the previous 24 hours.

"As far as the people detained in the raids, obviously we would have a strong suspicion they might be involved in attacks, given what we found in the venues that we raided," Lt. Col. George Krivo said.

Updating information on Saturday morning's attack on the American-occupied al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad, Krivo said three makeshift rockets were fired at the hotel -- one hitting and superficially damaging part of its 14th floor, another landing in a courtyard, and a third damaging a private house nearby.

No one was injured. He said he knew of no arrests.

Large munitions find

A weapons cache found Saturday near Saddam Hussein's hometown Tikrit included 23 Russian-made surface-to-air missiles, 1,000 pounds of plastic explosives, grenades, grenade launchers, rockets, a mortar and mortar rounds. It was among the largest caches found there since American troops arrived in April, according to Maj. Mike Rauhut of the 4th Infantry Division.

U.S. officials said troops also detained "a former high-ranking regime loyalist" but gave no further details.

Later Saturday near the northern city of Kirkuk, soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division found eight SA-7 surface to air missiles, seven mortar tubes and "a substantial number of electrical switches" used to make homemade bombs, division spokeswoman Maj. Josslyn Aberle said Sunday.

In Baghdad, Iraqi police found a much smaller cache late Saturday, recovering about a dozen small rockets, grenades and mortar rounds. The warheads had been removed from the rockets, suggesting they were to have been used in fabricating small roadside bombs that have caused casualties among U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians.

Police Gen. Ahmed Kadhim Ibrahim said the weapons were found after a tip from an informant. He said the weapons had been brought to Baghdad from the southern port of Basra after being smuggled in from a neighboring country that he would not identify.

Elsewhere, the Polish military reported Sunday that one Iraqi was killed and a second was detained after a gunbattle with a Polish patrol near the city of Hilla.

It was the first fatality suffered in a clash involving the Poles, who took over control of a sector in south-central Iraq on Sept. 3.

Poland commands some 9,500 peacekeepers from 21 nations and contributed about 2,400 of its own troops to the force.

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