Pressure mounts on Syria
(CNN) -- As Pentagon officials say the major battles in Iraq appear to be over, coalition officials are turning up the heat on Syria over its links to the former regime of Saddam Hussein.
U.S. and British officials are accusing Iraq's western neighbor of developing chemical weapons and warning it not to harbor members of Saddam's regime.
Syria denies it is harboring leaders of Saddam's regime and says it has no chemical weapons.
On Monday U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called on Syrian leaders to "review their actions and their behavior, not only with respect to who gets haven in Syria and weapons of mass destruction, but especially the support of terrorist activity."
Powell hinted at possible sanctions against Syria saying Washington would "examine possible measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature as we move forward."
He added: "We are in touch with Syrian authorities." (Full story)
Earlier British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Damascus needed to show it is cooperating with the coalition's efforts to find Saddam and other Iraqi fugitives as well as ease concerns over its weapons program.
Straw said he did not know if Syria was developing illegal weapons but added: "What is important ... is for Syria fully to cooperate over these questions that have been raised." (Full story)
The charges have sparked concern from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan who says they risk further destabilization in the Middle East.
A statement from the U.N. head reiterated his "strongly held view that any claim of threats to international peace and security should be addressed in conformity with the provisions of the [U.N. Security Council] charter." (Full story)
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana urged Washington to tone down its harsh statements about Syria, saying it was time to "cool down" the tense situation in the Middle East.
U.S. President George W. Bush, on Sunday, warned Syria against harboring Saddam loyalists, and said U.S. officials "believe there are chemical weapons in Syria." (Full story)
Major battles 'over'
The mounting pressure on Syria comes as the Pentagon indicates the major battles in Iraq may be over and as plans were announced to scale back the American naval presence in the Persian Gulf by bringing home two carrier groups in the coming days.
"I would anticipate that the major combat engagements are over," Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. He said U.S. forces are moving into a phase of "smaller, albeit sharper fights."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that Saddam's army had collapsed, and many of those still fighting against U.S. and British forces were from outside Iraq.
"In essence, all over Iraq, Saddam's forces have collapsed. Much of the remaining fighting, particularly in Baghdad, is being carried out by foreign irregular forces," Blair said in a statement to parliament Monday. (Full story)
The U.S. military reports that the bulk of these fighters are Syrian.
Washington officials also said the USS Kitty Hawk and USS Constellation could leave the Persian Gulf in the next several days. That would leave the USS Nimitz, which recently replaced the USS Abraham Lincoln, as the only remaining carrier group in the Gulf.
In addition, 20,000 members of the 1st Cavalry Division are not expected to deploy to Iraq in the immediate future, Pentagon sources said Monday. Similarly, only part of the 20,000-member 1st Armored Division, based in Germany, will deploy to the region under the revised plan. (Forces redeployed)
U.S. Air Forces fighters and bombers were also beginning the flight home. (Full story)
Elsewhere, Iraqi opposition leaders will meet on Tuesday to share their visions of a new government to replace Saddam's regime - the first in a series of U.S.-sponsored meetings within Iraq.
The meeting will take place in the southern city of Nasiriya, and will bring together Iraqi opposition figures who were invited by Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of the U.S. Central Command.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops have found 11 mobile laboratories buried south of Baghdad that are capable of biological and chemical uses, a U.S. general said Monday.
There were no chemical or biological weapons with the containerized labs. But soldiers recovered "about 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms)" of documents from inside the labs, and the United States will examine those papers further, said Brig. Gen. Benjamin Freakley of the Army's 101st Airborne Division. (Full story)
Opposition in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit was "lighter than we expected" Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks of U.S. Central Command said in Qatar.
Coalition forces attacked Tikrit from the south, west, and north, and were successful in "isolating" Republican Guard elements in the city, said Brooks, calling it "the only significant combat action that occurred within the last 24 hours." (Tikrit battle)
• A firefight lasting more than two hours broke out Monday in central Baghdad, with gunmen shooting at U.S. forces from a building near the Palestine Hotel, home base for most of the international journalists, Marines and witnesses said. The Marines said they took three suspects into custody who they believe were behind the attack. (Hotel firefight)
• Eighteen Kuwaitis apparently held prisoner since the 1990 Iraqi invasion of the country were found alive in Baghdad, Arabic language Abu Dhabi TV reported. Kuwait says hundreds of its citizens were held as POWs by Saddam's regime.
• The seven American POWs rescued by U.S. Marines Sunday said they had been treated fairly well by their Iraqi captors, though they lived in constant fear they might be killed, said Peter Baker of The Washington Post who traveled with them from Iraq to Kuwait. The seven are expected to leave for the United States Monday or Tuesday. (POWs freed)
• Of 146 sites in Iraq suspected of containing weapons of mass destruction, investigations have begun at seven, British Prime Minister Blair said Monday. Progress in finding such weapons is "bound to be slow," he told the House of Commons.
• Iraqi police and U.S. Marines began joint patrols in Baghdad Monday in an effort to restore order to the city. The U.S. will work with international agencies to secure Baghdad's museums and recover or restore stolen or broken antiquities, Secretary of State Colin Powell said.
• In Basra, British Central Command spokesman Group Capt. Al Lockwood said Monday that British troops were restoring law and order to the streets, mounting joint patrols in conjunction with local police officers.
• While U.S. Central Command spokesman Frank Thorp confirmed Monday that the United States has two of the 55 most wanted Iraqi leaders in custody, he did not say whether any more of Iraq's most wanted leaders had been captured.
• According to the latest figures provided by U.S. and British authorities, 148 coalition service members have died in the conflict. (Coalition casualties)
• The Iraqi government released no information on military losses during the war, though U.S. officials have reported thousands of Iraqi military deaths. Before the collapse of Saddam's regime, Abu Dhabi TV, quoting official Iraqi sources, put the figure at 1,252. U.S. Central Command said more than 7,300 Iraqis were taken prisoner of war.
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