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U.S. says Iraq missions will go on

An American soldier holds back a camel as military traffic enters a Baghdad palace.
An American soldier holds back a camel as military traffic enters a Baghdad palace.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. military commanders say "direct-action" missions will continue throughout Iraq despite the winding down of military action.

"These actions are intended to locate regime leaders and also to search former regime facilities," said Brigadier General Vincent Brooks at U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar, adding that U.S. troops were also on the lookout for people looking to launch suicide attacks.

Rewards will be offered for information leading to the capture of leaders of Saddam Hussein's regime, he said.

Across Iraq, no major fighting was reported Tuesday as the war continued to wind down. U.S. troops found more hidden weapons caches, and opposition leaders met U.S. officials for the first time to discuss a new government for the country.

In one operation on Tuesday U.S. Marines charged into the Palestine Hotel in central Baghdad, searching for "unauthorized weapons" and people "not friendly to the United States," a military source told CNN. (Full story)

In the hotel raid, arrests were made, but no details were disclosed. The operation was aimed at making the hotel safer, the military source told CNN's Michael Holmes. About 2,000 journalists covering the war have been staying there.

The Marines banged on doors -- forcing them open if occupants did not answer -- as they swept through at least two floors.

Hotel guests, who included about 2,000 international journalists covering the war, were asked to lie on the floor while rooms were searched, said CNN producer Linda Roth, who was on the 17th floor when the operation began.

A U.S. attack on the hotel killed two journalists last week. The U.S. Central Command said the military was responding to "significant enemy fire."

After coalition airstrikes and tank fire rocked Baghdad overnight, a massive column of U.S. Army armored vehicles rolled into the heart of the Iraqi capital Tuesday.

CNN's Holmes said the convoy was made up of elements of the Army V Corps, including the 4th Infantry Division. It will take over duties of Marines who have been trying to keep order in the city.

Clouds of white smoke rose from southeastern Baghdad around midday, and there was a series of huge explosions. The U.S. military was believed to be detonating large ammunition dumps, Holmes reported.

In Tikrit, the northern city taken Monday by coalition forces, two cars were found packed with explosives, the Arabic language television network Al Jazeera reported. One of the cars was parked among journalists' cars and would have killed dozens of journalists and civilians if it had exploded, the report said.

Brig. Gen. Brooks said U.S. Special Operations forces found 80 SA-2 or SA-3 surface-to-air missiles hidden within a ravine, and the U.S. Army 5th Corps found a weapons cache with 91 cases of TNT and plastic explosives, six homemade bombs, and 23 cases of rocket-propelled grenades -- and, elsewhere, the Corps found 10 small caches of ammunition and weapons.

At the ancient city of Ur near Nasiriya, the United States began the first of several meetings of Iraqi opposition leaders to begin discussing the future governance of Iraq, post-Saddam Hussein. (Full story)

They convened in a white tent in the shadow of the restored remains of the ancient Ur ziggurat, or observatory.

Thousands of Shiite Muslims protested in the streets of Nasiriya, fearing they will be excluded from the process, CNN's John Vause reported.

Those attending, hand-picked by the United States, also are expected to discuss whether the Baathist Party, Saddam's ruling party, will be allowed a role in the future Iraq. Among those attending the session is a representative of Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress.


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