Baghdad remains in the grip of a more than two-week-old power outage which has given looters and other lawbreakers a cover of darkness, leaving many families short on sleep as they guard homes night and day. Lacking power, the majority of businesses remain shuttered, and economic life is stilled.
As U.S. troops try to maintain order in the Iraqi capital, the U.S. government has awarded its first major contract for the reconstruction of Iraq: a $34.6 million deal with the Bechtel Corporation which could ultimately be worth as much as $680 million.
Some Democrats are criticizing the process of awarding the contract to the San Francisco-based company - which has had heavy ties to big names in the GOP - on the grounds that the Bush administration allowed only limited competition. But an administration spokeswoman says the White House had no involvement in the selection of Bechtel, and instead allowed the U.S. Agency for International Development to set its own criteria and make its own choice.
Bechtel is to evaluate and repair Iraq's power, water and sewage systems, and may also be involved in rehabilitating airports and seaports, other transportation links, hospitals, schools, government buildings, and irrigation system.
Iraqi electrical workers now say they hope to have the city's biggest power plant back online by Saturday, or even Friday - allowing that plant, in turn, to kick start the country's largest power plant, to the south. If that works, plant workers said, power could return in 10 days to most parts of Iraq that had it before.
In Baghdad, the voices of Iraqis who were dissidents under the regime of Saddam Hussein are again being heard.
CBS News Correspondent Dan Rather reports that a growing number of Iraqis from within and outside the country are clamoring to declare themselves leaders of the post-Saddam nation. Many of the self-declared leaders are dissidents returning to Iraq.
In other developments: The International Committee of the Red Cross reports that some patients at a Baghdad psychiatric hospital were raped as looters ransacked the building during a three-day spree. The director of Al-Rashad Hospital told Red Cross representatives that the rapes occurred as looters made off with nearly everything in the hospital - burning what they could not take - between April 9 and 11. A riot broke out at a Baghdad bank Thursday after thieves blew a hole in the vault and dropped children in to bring out fistfuls of cash. U.S. troops arrested the thieves and removed $4 million in U.S. dollars for safekeeping. The U.S. is airlifting American currency to Iraq to pay Iraqi workers and discourage looting. Iraq may need to start importing oil to run electric generators and water pumps, until the country's oil refineries are up and running. Mass graves containing as many as 3,000 bodies have reportedly been found near Kirkuk. That's according to Sky News, which quotes Kurdish officials as saying the area was used by the Iraqi army to bury Kurds killed during the Saddam Hussein regime's ethnic cleansing campaign in the late 1980s. Separately, the U.N. is investigating reports that some victims of that campaign were buried alive. The FBI is joining the hunt to recover priceless treasures stolen from Iraq's museums. Some looters emptying Iraq's museums of centuries-old treasures were possibly professional thieves who used keys to enter locked safes and vaults, experts said Thursday. Three members of the White House Cultural Property Advisory Committee have resigned, saying they are disappointed by the U.S. forces' failure to protect Iraq's historical artifacts from looters. "The tragedy was not prevented, due to our nation's inaction," says Martin E. Sullivan, the committee's chairman, referring to thefts from Baghdad's National Museum. Commenting on that allegation, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan calls the looting "unfortunate" and says the U.S."worked very hard to protect infrastructure in Iraq and to preserve the valued resources of Iraq." U.S. intelligence officials believe some senior members of Saddam Hussein's regime who may know about weapons programs have sought refuge in Syria. A State Department official indicated Thursday that Syria may be prepared to hand over some of those leaders. "There might be some individuals who might be made available to us," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. That word came not long after Secretary of State Colin Powell said that he plans to travel to Syria. FBI agents are reviewing documents recovered by U.S. troops in Iraq, looking for possible leads in the campaign against international terrorism and the hunt for weapons of mass destruction. Even as the search for illegal weapons expanded, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressed doubts that any would be found until Iraqis provide the crucial tips. "I think what will happen is we'll discover people who will tell us where to go find it," Rumsfeld said. "It is not like a treasure hunt where you just run around looking everywhere, hoping you find something." U.S. special forces captured Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, a half brother of Saddam Hussein who, according to one American commander, has "extensive knowledge" of the toppled regime's inner workings. Seven recently-rescued POWs called their families from a hospital in Germany, where they're being evaluated before being returned home. And POW Jessica Lynch pleaded with the nation to stop sending gift baskets, and instead make contributions to the Red Cross or other humanitarian agencies. British Prime Minister Tony Blair is revealing that he was so worried he might lose a crucial parliamentary vote before the war, he told civil servants to get ready for his resignation. That's according to the London Sun. Blair did win the vote, and he says he was delighted and relieved when he saw the statue of Saddam Hussein toppled in Baghdad. President Bush urged the United Nations to lift sanctions that have choked Iraq's economy for nearly 13 years. With the air campaign winding down and the Saddam regime toppled, the USS Constellation - on its final overseas mission before going into retirement - left the Gulf on Thursday. One day earlier, the carrier USS Kitty Hawk departed for its homeport in Yokosuka, Japan. The U.S. military said Wednesday that 125 U.S. service members have died and three are missing. The British government says 31 British soldiers have died.
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