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Fighting Begins in Tikrit

Hours after a camera crew was chased out of Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, U.S. forces started battling Iraqi troops there. In Baghdad, Iraqis responded in droves to a call to help restore order.

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Still calm in parts of Tikrit

U.S. Marines reportedly fought Iraqi forces on the southern edge of President Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on Sunday.

Matthew Fisher, a journalist with Canada's National Post newspaper, told Reuters that U.S. troops were pushing into the last major Iraqi population center not yet controlled by U.S.-led coalition forces.

"It's a very, very significant attack," Fisher, who is traveling with the Marines, said.

He also said U.S. forces were expecting members of the Iraqi Republican Guard and the Fedayeen militia to fight to defend the town 175 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad.

The U.S. forces had engaged in battle earlier in the day while moving toward Tikrit, Fisher said. Around fifteen Iraqis were killed, but no Americans were, he added.

"Tikrit is one of the areas where we still have concern there may be presence of regime forces," U.S. Army Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said on Saturday at a briefing at Central Command headquarters in Qatar.

Despite U.S. bombardments of the city, U.S. generals said that Iraqi reinforcements had been seen digging in around Tikrit.

Camera crew flees shooting

Earlier in the day a camera team barely escaped from Tikrit. CNN correspondent Brent Sadler and his convoy of seven vehicles came under fire as they ran a checkpoint in the seemingly deserted town.

Initially, Sadler reported that one person had been injured, but CNN later said no one in the crew -- which included a photographer, a translator and security advisors -- had been hurt. Security advisors returned fire with automatic machine guns as the team was pursued by a car.

"It is the first time in my 25 years as a war correspondent that I have come under such close, deliberate fire," Sadler said. "That was a pretty ugly moment,"

The CNN team had previously toured the city's outskirts, taking note of the sound of explosions coming from the town and people leaving it carrying belongings. The crew decided to move into the center after residents said there were no fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein there.

Refugees returning

Thousands of refugees began returning to Baghdad after fleeing the encroaching war. A steady stream of vehicles over several kilometers made their way back into the city from the east.

USA Soldat geht gegen Plünderer vor mit Thumbnail

A U.S. Marine arrests suspected looters in Bagdad.

"Every hour that goes by it's getting better and more peaceful and more orderly in that country," U.S. Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Rumsfeld, who had on Friday denounced media reports of plundering and arson in Iraqi cities, said that U.S. forces were guarding hospitals and other facilities that had been looted.

Meanwhile, U.S. Marines were still struggling to check the lawlessness that had emerged in the capital since the forces occupied the city.

Looters ransacked the National Antiquities Museum on Saturday, emptying the building of priceless treasures dating back thousands of years.

Recruiting locals

Hundreds of Iraqis responded to U.S. broadcasts on Iraqi radio appealing to police and civil servants to help impose order in the face of rampant looting and arson.

U.S. Marine Major David Cooper said the aim was to have police back on the streets on Monday, amid fears that Iraqi police would not quell the chaos.

"All the people hate the police," Nazir Nasir, a biomedical engineer, who had responded to the occupying forces' call told Reuters.

Iraqis accuse the police of taking bribes and cooperating with Iraqi intelligence services during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

Shiite leader under siege

A Muslim cleric had been ordered to leave Iraq within 48 hours by armed radical groups who surrounded his house in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, aides to the cleric told Reuters on Sunday.

Kuwaiti-based Ayatollah Abulqasim Dibaji said members of Jimaat-e-Sadr-Thani had besieged Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani's house.

Senior Iraqi Shiite leaders have blamed the group -- purportedly led by 22-year-old Moqtada Sadr -- for the brutal killing of senior cleric Abdul Majid al-Khoei in Najaf's most important mosque on Thursday. A crowd hacked al-Khoei to death days after he returned from exile in London.

"Motadi and his group killed him because they wanted to control Najaf and the holy shrine, which will be the core of the Shiite world in free Iraq," Mohammed Baqir Mohri, a Shiite cleric and scholar said on Saturday.

Shiite sources told Reuters that U.S. forces stationed outside Najaf had moved into the city to restore order between rival Shiite groups. They had retreated to the outskirts to avoid creating tension after hostile crowds had blocked their path to the shrine earlier this month.

Iraqi aide surrenders

Saddam Hussein's top scientific advisor surrendered to U.S. forces on Saturday. After turning himself in to Marines in Baghdad, General Amer Hammoudi al-Saadi insisted Iraq did not have chemical or biological weapons.

U.S. intelligence officials hope al-Saadi will reveal details of Iraq's weapons programs.

U.S. warns Syria

The United States further fueled speculation that Syria may be a target of military action.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell warned that Syria should not become "a haven for all these people who should be brought to justice who are trying to get out of Baghdad," in an interview with the BBC on Sunday.

"Now that the regime is gone in Baghdad, we hope that Syria will understand there is an opportunity for a better way for them, if they would stop supporting terrorist activities," he said.

"We hope the Syrians will respond accordingly," Powell added.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara denied his country was helping Saddam Hussein's government on Saturday.

Additional developments on Sunday:

  • Seven U.S. service members taken prisoners by Iraqi forces were recovered north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. Five of the soldiers' families received official confirmation that their relatives were safe, CNN reported.
    • Four U.S. soldiers were shot at and wounded while cleaning up an Iraqi arms dump south of Baghdad.

      Compiled by DW-WORLD staff with information from wire services.

      Note: Information on troop movements, victims and damage estimates are based on information from parties involved in the war and cannot be independently verified.