BAGHDAD, Iraq – With much of the military's focus aimed at a possible final standoff in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, attention returned to Baghdad Saturday as U.S. officials announced that they will send 1,200 police and judicial officers to help restore order to the chaos-laden capital.
The U.S. military and Iraqi police confirmed Saturday that they've agreed to joint citywide patrols to help stop the widespread looting. Iraqi police Col. Mohammed Zaki said the patrols will begin with one or two days. The Marines confirmed the patrols will start, but did not offer a time frame.
Officials are concerned that rampant looting, vandalism and arson in government offices could destroy valuable evidence related to weapons of mass destruction, the whereabouts of coalition POWs and information on key Iraqi leaders.
Also on Saturday, Saddam Hussein's science adviser, Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, surrendered to U.S. forces, maintaining that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction and that the American-led invasion was unjustified.
In western Iraq, U.S. troops halted a busload of men who had $630,000 in cash and a letter offering rewards for killing American soldiers.
Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, at a U.S. Central Command briefing Saturday, said the 59 men were captured while heading toward Iraq's border with Syria. He said he did not know the men's nationalities nor who wrote the letter offering rewards.
It was also confirmed Saturday that lead elements of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division were crossing the Kuwait border into Iraq for the first time, a move that was expected to happen before the Tikrit standoff. Reuters also reported that Marines were heading to locations north of Baghdad where they believed Iraqi strongholds were located.
In Baghdad, U.S. Marines discovered a cache of about 50 explosives-laden suicide attack vests stored in an elementary school less than 20 feet from a civilian home, along with empty hangers hinting that suicide bombers might be wearing them in the chaotic city.
The Times of London reported that a Pentagon official claims that there is a "direct tie between Saddam Hussein and terrorist organizations," due to an influx of non-Iraqi militants prior to the beginning of the war. The report stated that Saddam recruited hundreds of guerilla fighters from countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
The Pentagon strongly denies that any of their officials would have made such a claim without proper investigation and evidence.
Constant discoveries of munitions and weapons, often in non-military locations such as schools and hospitals has even shocked the troops scouring for them. "We didn't imagine this much stuff here," said Lt. David Wright, of Goldsboro, N.C. "Every 200 meters we find something."
Still questioning the status of the Iraqi leader, U.S. intelligence has monitored some communications in which Iraqis affiliated with Saddam's regime claim he is dead, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. But he also added that the Iraqis could be speculating or trying to mislead coalition forces.
Saddam and his sons are "either dead or they're running like hell," U.S. war chief Gen. Tommy Franks told U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
In what could be a very positive turnaround for coalition troops, Senior Defense officials informed Fox News on Saturday that Tikrit — the biggest population center not under the control of American-led forces — "could fall without a significant fight." Officials hinted that after days of intense bombing and U.S. Special Forces "nearby," Tikrit may fall without a large U.S. presence.
Officials said Saddam's hometown has been pummeled with airstrikes and doesn't present an effective fighting force based on intelligence. There is believed to be at least one brigade of Iraqi Republican Guard in Tikrit, but officials said "that could be going away," Saturday.
Central Command reported Saturday that U.S. Marines from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force had rescued four journalists from the Ibn Al Nafees Hospital in Baghdad. Two of the journalists saved were injured in the April 8th firefight that led to a U.S. tank shell hitting the Palestine Hotel. Another journalist was uninjured when Marines arrived, and another was found dead.
The two injured journalists are being treated at a field hospital southeast of Baghdad, and the names of all of those recovered are being withheld. Looting diminished Saturday in Mosul, a day after pro-Saddam defense forces dissolved and U.S. special forces moved in. The special forces were joined Saturday by a two-dozen-vehicle Army convoy that was greeted by thousands of cheering Iraqis.
To the south, fires were burning out of control in Baghdad.
Much of the looting in Baghdad and other cities has targeted government ministries and the homes of former regime leaders, but looters also have ransacked foreign embassies, stolen ambulances from hospitals and robbed some private businesses.
Also looted was the Iraq National Museum, the country's flagship archaeological museum, which featured priceless artifacts dating back to 5,000 B.C. Reporters visiting it Saturday saw row after row of empty glass cases, many of them smashed, and bits of broken pottery and sculpture on the floors.
U.S. forces reopened two strategic bridges Saturday in the heart of Baghdad — enabling looters to pillage new territory. U.S. forces watched as plunderers swarmed into several government buildings, including the Planning Ministry on the west bank of the Tigris River, and emerged with bookshelves, sofas and computers.
Aid organizations, as well as many Baghdad residents, have pleaded with U.S. officials to crack down on the looting.
"The humanitarian situation is worsening as a consequence of widespread lawlessness," said InterAction, a Washington-based coalition of more than 160 U.S. aid groups. Iraq-based relief workers with CARE reported that hospitals are "in absolutely dire straits," with some looted and others closed to prevent looting.
Abbas Reta, 51, a Baghdad engineer with five children, was distraught at the looting of schools and hospitals.
"If one of my family is injured where will I take them now? When the schools reopen, my children will have no desks to sit on," he said. "The Americans are responsible. One round from their guns and all the looting would have stopped."
Fox News learned Saturday from the Australian Embassy that humanitarian aid flights by the Australian Air Force into Baghdad International Airport have been approved, and will begin early Saturday morning.
Getting the food into the airport will be the easiest part of the process, as one Department of Defense senior official said distribution inside Baghdad will be problematic for coalition forces. Troops are still facing small pockets of resistance that continue to haunt coalition forces patrolling the streets.
In another Baghdad neighborhood, residents complained that U.S. soldiers thus far have not heeded requests to clear cluster bombs dropped during the war. The residents said three people had been killed and one injured trying to pick up the unexploded ordnance.
Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks of U.S. Central Command said a list has been compiled of 52 key regime leaders, some of whom already may have been killed. Cards with names and photos are being distributed to coalition soldiers.
The cards include Saddam and his minister of information, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, who boasted of battlefield successes right up to the time he disappeared on Tuesday.
"There are jokers in this deck, there is no doubt about that," Brooks said.
Al Jazeera television was reporting Saturday that British troops patrolling Basra have discovered an underground prison, and could hear the voices of what are thought to be inmates. It is reported that troops cannot, however, find an entrance to the prison, and will soon begin breaking down the walls.
The Pentagon and Central Command have no information to substantiate these reports as of yet.
At the White House, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said Saddam's regime "has lost control. This is a great turning point for the people of Iraq as the regime is gone."
Meanwhile, U.S. defense officials told Fox News they are increasingly concerned about the status of seven prisoners of war being held by the Iraqis.
The fall of Mosul, a city of more than 600,000, came Friday, a day after U.S. and Kurdish forces took Kirkuk, the other major city in the north. Both cities have economic links to nearby oil fields.
On the other side of Kirkuk, thousands of young Iraqi soldiers walked south toward Baghdad on Friday, making their way home. Their documents were confiscated by superior officers to keep them from deserting.
A senior defense official told Fox News that the Iraqi military — both regular Army and Republican Guard Divisions — is "destroyed as a conventional force."
Al-Douri Calls It Quits
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri, the first Iraqi official to concede defeat, said Friday he was quitting his job and leaving New York possibly for Damascus, Syria, but it's not clear if he will stay there. In an interview with Al-Arabiya, a Dubai-based satellite channel, Al-Douri complained that U.S. forces in Iraq are "destroying, ravaging, killing."
Asked if he intended to defect, he replied, "There is no more Iraqi government to be defected from."
Fox News' Major Garret, Bret Baier, Yolanda Maggi, Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.