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Bush: U.S. will find banned Iraqi weapons

Many parents keep kids away as schools reopen in Baghdad

President Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Crawford, Texas, on Saturday.
President Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Crawford, Texas, on Saturday.

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SPECIAL REPORT
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- As the United States plans to send 1,000 experts to Iraq to aid troops in the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, President Bush said Saturday that he is confident the U.S. will demonstrate that Iraq built chemical and biological weapons under Saddam Hussein's rule.

U.S. defense officials said "exploitation teams," as the Pentagon terms them, have uncovered evidence of the banned programs, including vehicles they suspect might have served as mobile biological weapons laboratories, paper documentation of the programs and witness testimony of the existence of the programs.

Disarming Iraq of alleged weapons of mass destruction was the cornerstone of the Bush administration's decision to attack Iraq as a matter of "pre-emptive defense," as it has been called by U.S. officials. Despite a number of initial claims, no such weapons have been found.

At least 10 former U.N. weapons inspectors who have experience searching for weapons in Iraq will be among the team of experts sent to Iraq, a senior official told CNN.

Bush said Saturday that he's certain weapons of mass destruction will be uncovered in Iraq.

"We'll find them," he vowed to reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he was meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Australia sent 2,000 troops to aid in the effort to overthrow Saddam's regime. (Full story, Australian forces in the coalition)

Bush also said Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who surrendered to U.S. forces this week, "Still doesn't know how to tell the truth.

"He didn't know to tell the truth when he was in office. He doesn't know how to tell the truth as a captive," Bush said, without giving specifics.

While the United States continues the hunt for banned weapons, Iraqis continue to worry about personal safety and security.

Many parents in Baghdad said they were afraid to send their children to the official start of the school year Saturday. The same day, the city's acting police chief made a surprise resignation.

At one school in which 400 students were expected to register, only a handful showed up. Many of the parents who did register their children expressed concern.

"I have a daughter in secondary school, how can I send her there? She's pretty, and it's not safe," one mother said.

U.S. authorities said they were caught off guard Saturday when Baghdad's interim police chief submitted his resignation. Officials said they were scrambling to find a replacement, according to an Army spokesman.

U.S. officials considered the former acting police chief, Zuhir al-Naimi, a "good guy" who was kicked off the Baghdad police force 18 years ago by friends of Saddam's. But problems arose because al-Naimi did not want to set up the Baghdad police department the American way, "enacting our laws," said Capt. Jimmy Brownlee, spokesman for the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

Al-Naimi also did not want to implement a gun-safety training program, make a budget or deal with many of the procedures the U.S. military has established for setting up a police force, Brownlee said.

Official: U.S. troops in Iraq to be halved by fall

The United States plans to pull more than half of its more than 130,000 troops out of Iraq by fall, a senior administration official said Saturday.

Iraqi students talk to each other on the campus of Baghdad University on Saturday, the first day of class since Saddam's regime was toppled.
Iraqi students talk to each other on the campus of Baghdad University on Saturday, the first day of class since Saddam's regime was toppled.

Three of five divisions in the region should be home by then, the official said without providing specifics.

U.S. defense officials also told CNN that they hope to significantly reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq as soon as it is "reasonable to do so," but that any decision to pull troops out in the near future will depend on a number of factors, including the degree of social stability that can be established in Iraq; the creation of an interim administration; and the number of other countries willing to contribute troops to stabilization operations there.

A senior Defense Department official said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will meet in the next few weeks with European, NATO and other defense officials to assess their willingness to contribute troops to any force for the stabilization and reconstruction phase in Iraq.

Other developments

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives at Beirut's airport Saturday after talks with Syrian leaders in Damascus.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives at Beirut's airport Saturday after talks with Syrian leaders in Damascus.

• U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking in Beirut, Lebanon, after meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad, said he and Assad discussed what Washington calls the "changed strategic situation" in the Middle East since Saddam's ouster. Those talks followed weeks of tension between the United States and Syria. (Full story)

• The USS Abraham Lincoln was scheduled to depart Saturday from Naval Air Station North Island, near San Diego, California, to steam to its home port of Everett, Washington, and another homecoming celebration. The aircraft carrier was the setting for President Bush's announcement Thursday of the end of major conflict in Iraq. (Full story, Gallery: Homecoming at NAS North Island)

• U.S.-led coalition forces are holding about 3,600 Iraqi prisoners of war, U.S. Central Command said Saturday.

• L. Paul Bremer will lead the U.S. reconstruction effort in the country, a senior U.S. defense official told CNN. Bremer will report either to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or to Army Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, the official said. (Full story)

-- CNN correspondents Barbara Starr, Rym Brahimi and Chris Burns, and CNN Madrid bureau chief Al Goodman, 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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