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Holmes: Iraqi capital still tense

Iraqi protest
Iraqis shout anti-American slogans Sunday near the Palestine Hotel as smoke billows in the background.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- As civil servants met Sunday to discuss returning to work, explosions, firefights and yet another incident at a U.S. military checkpoint served as violent reminders that the situation remains tense in Baghdad.

CNN Correspondent Michael Holmes talked with anchor Carol Costello on Sunday about the challenge of restoring order in the Iraqi capital.

HOLMES: Another explosion just a couple of seconds ago, actually. It sounded like a tank.

I want to bring you up-to-date on a very important meeting that took place today. It was a meeting attended by just the kinds of people that Baghdad needs to get back to work: civil engineers, civil servants, doctors, lawyers, teachers and policemen. There were several senior police officers, too.

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The meeting was addressed by Mohammed Mussen al Zubaydi, who is a former exiled opposition leader now back in his homeland. He was urging people to get back to work, particularly police, and stop some of the looting that's gone on and that Marines have been unable or unwilling to prevent.

He's particularly urging electricians to go back to the power station. This is still a city without power, and that is something that's been concerning relief and humanitarian officials, too. The power has been out for days now.

This meeting is certainly a sign of what the U.S. Marines have been wanting for a while, and that's to have the security responsibility, if you like, pushed away from them and onto Iraqis.

There has still been a lot of [military] activity around Baghdad -- not as much as in recent days, but still significant.

I mentioned the tank firing just a short time ago. And a few hours ago, there was a massive explosion about a mile or two from here, west of Baghdad, in the area of Saddam Hussein's main presidential palace.

The blast wasn't the palace itself, but it was in the compound. It appeared to be an airstrike, and a plume of smoke reached into the sky. It was an enormous explosion.

There had been rumors for some time that there is a bunker in that area, and we have yet to get confirmation. Perhaps it was a bunker-busting bomb. Who knows?

There was action also nearby, just last evening, when an incredible firefight broke out.

looter arrest
U.S. Marines arrest a suspected looter in the streets of Baghdad on Sunday.

We're told two men with AK-47s fired on U.S. Marines, and Marines responded with withering fire -- 50-caliber machine guns -- raking the area about 200 or 300 meters from where I stand now. Marines scrambled down there, M-16s chattering. For about 20 minutes this went on, and we're told the two men with AK-47s are no more.

COSTELLO: Can you update us on this U.S. Marine who was killed at a checkpoint to a hospital?

HOLMES: Yes, that was another tragedy at a checkpoint, and the tragedies have been on both sides. We have seen suicide attacks at checkpoints, where Marines have been killed and soldiers have been killed. We've also seen Marines, obviously very nervous, opening fire on civilian vehicles, and children have been killed in those unfortunate incidents.

This one you're referring to was a U.S. Marine at a checkpoint. Two men came up to that checkpoint, one pulled out a firearm and shot dead the Marine. Other Marines opened fire. They killed one of the two men. The other one managed to escape.

The dead gunman was carrying identification papers that were Syrian. Whether he was Syrian or not, we don't know for sure, but certainly [that discovery is] an indicator that perhaps he was.

So yes, yet another checkpoint tragedy, and they are very nervous on checkpoints. I spent a large part of yesterday driving around to checkpoints, reporting this very nervousness.


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