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W. House Web chat debates Saddam's fate

Saddam Portrait
A vandalized portrait of Saddam Hussein in the center of Mosul, northern Iraq.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said during an online question-and-answer session Wednesday that he thought Saddam Hussein was dead.

White House spokesman Adam Levine said Card was only speculating and that there is no definite proof of Saddam's demise. He added that many senior White House officials believe the Iraqi leader was killed during the war.

Card was the first administration official to take part in an online discussion sponsored by the White House and on its official Web site.

According to the White House Web site transcript, Card was asked by a caller from Quincy, Massachusetts: "Is there any new information on the location of Saddam Hussein? And can the war be deemed successful in terms of eliminating the security threat to the United States and other countries if Saddam is not killed or captured?"

Card, a former Transportation Secretary, answered: "He is not likely to be in Quincy, Braintree, or my hometown of Holbrook. I think he is dead. 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."

Levine said Card, who attends the president's daily national security briefings, was offering his honest opinion -- "that he thinks, he believes he is dead."

In Baghdad Wednesday, U.S. soldiers uncovered what they called a terrorist bomb-making facility filled with enough TNT and other components to destroy three city blocks.

Members of the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, were led to the abandoned residential complex in the south of the city by an Iraqi farmer, said Col. Mike Linnington, brigade commander. The farmer said the plant had been abandoned a few days ago, according to Linnington.

About 1,000 pounds of TNT were found along with completed bombs, some of which appeared to be suicide bombs. They also found dynamite, nitroglycerin and plastic explosives.

The soldiers found walkie-talkies and alarm clocks that apparently were to be used as detonation devices. The facility included an explosives training center with a model of a road used to instruct where to plant bombs.

Civilians in the capital saw a new U.S.-trained police force on the streets early Wednesday morning as soldiers from the Free Iraqi Forces moved in to restore security.

About 120 soldiers arrived with AK-47s to prevent looting and other crimes.

U.S. Special Forces have trained about 700 of the Free Iraqi Forces. In the past few days, the Iraqi soldiers have patrolled cities in predominantly Shiite areas in south-central Iraq, where they have been largely welcomed.

U.S. soldiers also were standing guard Wednesday at Iraq's National Museum, where widespread looting broke out after the fall of Baghdad last week.

Other developments

• Italy will seek to extradite Abu Abbas, the mastermind of the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli said Wednesday. U.S. special operations forces captured Abbas on the outskirts of Baghdad this week. (Full story)

• U.S. Marines tried to assert control Wednesday over Mosul as Iraqis protested the "American occupation" of the main government building, a senior Iraqi Kurdish intelligence official told CNN. A clash Tuesday between Iraqi Arabs and U.S. Marines resulted in the deaths of at least seven Iraqis near the city center.

• President Bush signed an $80 billion spending bill into law Wednesday to help pay for the war with Iraq. A top Pentagon official estimated the war had already cost the United States $20 billion and the total price tag was increasing by about $2 billion a month. (Full story)

• The seven U.S. soldiers freed Sunday after being held as prisoners of war in Iraq arrived Wednesday at a U.S. air base in Germany from Kuwait City. The six men and one woman were expected to be treated at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

• U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of coalition forces, visited Baghdad Wednesday for the first time since U.S.-led forces entered the capital. He held a videoconference with Bush during his six-hour stay and spoke with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by telephone. Franks shared cigars with several senior officers at a palace of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, which is being used as a military headquarters. (Full story)

A U.S. soldier arrests an Iraqi man caught robbing the vaults of the burned-out Rasheed Bank in central Baghdad on Wednesday.
A U.S. soldier arrests an Iraqi man caught robbing the vaults of the burned-out Rasheed Bank in central Baghdad on Wednesday.

• Syria introduced a resolution Wednesday in the U.N. Security Council that would declare the Middle East a region free of weapons of mass destruction. Earlier, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Sharaa said his country would back a U.N. treaty to that effect. (Full story)

• The former head of Saddam's feared Mukhabbarat intelligence service, Farouk Hijazi, is in the Syrian capital of Damascus, U.S. officials said Tuesday. Hijazi is suspected of involvement in Iraqi intelligence's unsuccessful plot to kill former President Bush in Kuwait in 1993. The Syrian Foreign Ministry denied the contention. (Full story)

• French President Jacques Chirac said Wednesday the United Nations should assume an important role in postwar Iraqi reconstruction. Speaking at a meeting of the European Union in Greece, Chirac said, "You have to look at the problems, file by file, case by case, and solve them. Find a right way to solve them. But we can't do that without the United Nations. It won't work." (Full story)

• In northern Iraq, U.S. troops shut down a pipeline Rumsfeld said was supplying oil to Syria in violation of U.N. sanctions. "I cannot assure you that all illegal oil flowing from Iraq into Syria is shut off," Rumsfeld said. "I just hope it is."

• About 30 Iraqi and world experts will meet at the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's headquarters in Paris, France, to evaluate the extent of looting in Iraqi museums and how to preserve Iraq's cultural heritage. U.S. Central Command acknowledged a "void in security," saying the U.S. military failed to anticipate "the riches of Iraq would be looted by the Iraqi people." (Full story)

CNN correspondents Christiane Amanpour, Jim Clancy, Michael Holmes, Tom Mintier, Nic Robertson and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

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