Bush might announce end to Iraqi combat, sources say
First American ground forces prepare to go home
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush might declare an end to combat in Iraq next week, senior White House officials told CNN on Friday. But the president will not declare the war over, the officials said.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday that it is possible that an end will never be declared.
"I would guess there will be an end," Rumsfeld said. "Can I tell you for sure? No. ... This isn't World War I or World War II, that starts and then ends. Take Afghanistan. We've moved from major military activities to a point where at the present time, the vast majority of the country is in a stabilization security mode."
An announcement from Bush could come during his visit Thursday and Friday to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, returning from the Persian Gulf region.
Although fighting has wound down throughout Iraq, Pentagon officials said Friday that there are still "pockets" of resistance.
"This morning, a 20- to 30-man Iraqi paramilitary force attacked a coalition patrol northwest of Mosul," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Coalition forces killed several of the attackers and destroyed two of the so-called technical vehicles, the trucks with the machine guns on them."
Also, he said, "a two-man enemy paramilitary element was engaged in south Baghdad; one was killed, one was captured."
Rumsfeld pointed to the continued fighting when he was asked if the United States will choose not to declare a formal end to the war in order to avoid the responsibilities the Geneva Conventions impose on a postwar occupying power.
"There's not an attempt to avoid anything except getting more people killed," he replied, "and an attempt to try to get that country and those people in a process that'll produce a free Iraqi government."
Top officials in U.S. custody
U.S. officials said Friday that the capture of two key Iraqi officials helped prove the success of the U.S.-led war.
Farouk Hijazi, former operations chief for Saddam Hussein's intelligence service, is in U.S. hands after being taken into custody Thursday evening near the Syrian border.
Hijazi is suspected of involvement in the unsuccessful plot by Iraqi intelligence to kill former President George Bush, the current president's father, in Kuwait in 1993. Hijazi was the third-ranking Iraqi intelligence official at the time of the alleged plot, officials said.
Hijazi is not on the list of 55 most-wanted Iraqi leaders, but former CIA Director James Woolsey said that omission does not mean he is not important.
"It's a big catch, and this man was involved, we know, with a number of contacts with al Qaeda, so this would be a interesting development, the biggest catch so far, I would say, of any of the people that we've got," Woolsey told CNN.
Saddam's former deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, turned himself in to coalition forces late Thursday after organizing the surrender for several days to ensure the process was dignified, his family told CNN's Nic Robertson. (Full story, U.S. hoping Aziz talks) (Aziz profile)
The Iraqi National Congress, an opposition group that has worked with the United States for years, said the arrest would help Iraqis lay their "fears to rest" and feel "secure in a new environment." It will help "restore" their lives, spokesman Nabil Musawi said.
The Bush administration is not saying what kinds of information Aziz and Hijazi might provide. Rumsfeld said, "You can be certain that the people who we have reason to believe have information are being interrogated by interagency teams, and they are in fact providing information that's useful."
U.S. troops have found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The insistence that the country had such weapons, despite the denials of Saddam's regime, was the Bush administration's main argument for war.
U.S. officials say it will take time to find the weapons. President Bush told NBC, in an interview scheduled to be broadcast Friday, that there is evidence Saddam's regime might have destroyed some and "dispersed some."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday that tests are under way. The evidence found so far supports the U.S. contention that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, he said: "You can't destroy something you don't have."
Marines packing up, pulling out
Meanwhile, about 2,300 U.S. Marines have begun pulling out of Iraq to prepare to return to their home base of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Units of Task Force Tarawa of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit are packing up their equipment at Camp Patriot in Kuwait. The amphibious-ready force will return aboard the USS Nassau, USS Austin and USS Tortuga, Marine spokesman Capt. Dan McSweeney said.
On the diplomatic front, a high-ranking Russian official said Moscow is "determined to put the U.S.-Russia relationship firmly back on track" after disputes over Iraq.
The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there will be "important" Russian-American contacts next week in Moscow. He did not specify who will attend those meetings.
Russia so far has insisted that U.N. sanctions on Iraq can be removed only through a Security Council vote. Moscow has joined France in supporting a temporary, partial lifting of sanctions that would affect civilians.
President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to hold a brief summit next month in St. Petersburg, Russia, before the G8 summit.
• The U.S. State Department issued a new travel warning for Iraq on Friday, saying that though the country remains unstable and potentially dangerous, American journalists, humanitarian workers and contractors working on rebuilding projects may travel there. The new warning replaces one issued February 19, which urged Americans to steer clear of Iraq and U.S. residents in the country to leave immediately.
• The U.N. refugee agency is shifting its focus from caring for Iraqis who fled their war-torn country to sending them home. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has developed a preliminary repatriation and reintegration plan for up to 500,000 Iraqi refugees out of the nearly 900,000 in the immediate region and beyond, a spokesman for the agency said. The plan's budget is $118 million over eight months. (Full story)
• U.S. Marines from the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion are patrolling the Iraqi-Iranian border along the length of the Wasit Province east of Kut. The patrols are designed to keep Iranian-backed dissidents from coming into Iraq. The Marines are under orders to search and interview all people attempting to enter or leave Iraq through Iran. The Marines hope to locate and detain "all former regime officials, third-country nationals and insurgents," according to a U.S. Central Command statement.
-- CNN correspondents Jane Arraf, Dana Bash, Jill Dougherty, David Ensor, John King, Nic Robertson and Barbara Starr, and producer Terry Frieden, contributed to this report.
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