POWs Return Home

POWs P.O.W. Prisoners of War Iraq Yellow ribbon
Seven former U.S. prisoners of war returned home Saturday to a crowd of flag-waving family and friends, one week after they were rescued in Iraq.

Thousands of well-wishers hoisted flags and burst into cheers as the C-17 transport plane landed on a wind-swept runway at Fort Bliss. Two servicemen poked their heads through a hatch on top of the plane, holding an American flag and waving to the crowd as the plane taxied along the tarmac.

Friends and family gathered under the tail of the plane with open arms as the soldiers exited, including Spc. Shoshana Johnson, who gripped a flag in each hand and hopped on one leg as she was helped onto a golf cart. She was shot in both ankles by Iraqi fighters.

The cart then took a victory lap in front of the overjoyed crowd, which occasionally broke into chants of "USA! USA!" Spc. Joseph Hudson, one of the former POWs, jumped off the cart at one point and said "This is a great country. God bless America!"

After a private reception and dinner of submarine sandwiches, cookies and pink lemonade, the five Fort Bliss soldiers were to spend the night at the post to undergo evaluation by doctors from nearby William Beaumont Army Medical Center, Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said. The two other soldiers were heading to their base of Fort Hood.

"They are in great shape and great spirits," said Col. Glenn Mitchell, commander at the medical center.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, Saddam Hussein's finance minister was arrested and a top scientist turned himself in, U.S. officials said Saturday, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the search for the toppled regime's wealth as well as any biological and chemical weapons.

In other developments:

  • U.S. troops said fighting in the capital had all but stopped. Marines moves out and handed things over to the Army. Iraqi police worked alongside U.S. troops. Iraqi merchants were selling whiskey and beer, both of which were banned in public by Saddam. Hundreds of Iraqis swarmed the Palestine Hotel in hopes of obtaining jobs with the transitional government. Later, about 500 people marched toward the hotel, carrying such signs as "No to occupation."
  • Throngs of Shiite Muslims - who make up 60 percent of Iraq's 24 million people - marched through Baghdad's streets Saturday in a prelude to their annual pilgrimage next week to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. Shiites by the thousands are expected to make the pilgrimage on foot this year, a practice discouraged under the rule of Saddam's mainly Sunni Muslim regime.
  • The first convoy of food aid arrived in Baghdad Saturday from Jordan. The flour and other supplies, carried in 50 trucks organized by the United Nations, will be stored in warehouses until authorities arrange distribution.
  • Four U.S. soldiers on patrol in the capital were injured Saturday when an Iraqi girl handed them an explosive, a canister-size piece of a cluster bomb, and it blew up, U.S. officials said. They said it apparently wasn't a deliberate attack. The girl, about 7 years old, suffered hand injuries and was taken away by her parents.
  • Iraqi antiquities officials reported that a small number of artifacts looted from the National Museum - including pottery and metal pieces - had been returned. In Jordon, customs authorities seized 42 paintings believed to have belonged to the museum, officials said Saturday.
  • Foreign ministers from eight Middle East nations ended an emergency meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with an appeal to U.S. and British "occupying" forces to leave Iraq swiftly, and a condemnation of U.S. threats against Syria for allegedly developing chemical weapons and harboring members of Saddam's toppled regime.
  • Syria banned any Iraqi not already holding a visa from entering the country, airline sources confirmed Saturday. The conciliatory gesture was another sign that Syria is seeking to ease tensions with Washington over Iraq ahead of an expected visit soon by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
  • A patrol from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division came across an estimated $650 million in U.S. currency, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday, in a Tigris River neighborhood of Baghdad where senior Baath party and Republican Guard officials lived.
  • Elsewhere in the capital, Marines with machine guns guarded an estimated $1 billion in gold in the city's banking district, securing nine massive vaults that withstood rocket-propelled grenade hits by thieves.
  • In southern Iraq, British and Iraqi workers reopened a rail line between the port city of Umm Qasr and Basra to spur humanitarian relief supplies to the region.
  • In northern Iraq, where Kurds run an autonomous region, scores of fighters forced to fight for Saddam were freed by their Kurdish captors after being held as prisoners of war and began their journey home.

    TheU.S. Central Command said Saturday that members of the newly revived Iraqi police force arrested Hikmat Mizban Ibrahim al-Azzawi, Saddam's finance chief and a deputy prime minister, in Baghdad Friday and turned him over to U.S. troops. He is the "eight of diamonds," number 45 in the deck of 55 cards put out by the U.S. military showing wanted ex-regime leaders.

    A Central Command spokesman, Marine Capt. Stewart Upton, suggested that al-Azzawi should know where the regime kept its wealth hidden. "It's money for the people of Iraq, and we seek to have that for the building of the future of Iraq," he said.

    Also Friday, Emad Husayn Abdullah al-Ani - depicted as the mastermind of Iraq's nerve agent program - turned himself in to the Americans. Al-Ani may be able to provide information on any chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, or evidence of links between Saddam's regime and the al Qaeda terrorist group.

    U.S. officials say he was involved in Iraq's development of the deadly nerve agent VX. He also was accused by U.S. officials in 1998 of involvement with a chemical plant in Sudan linked to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

    The Central Command also said Khala Khader al-Salahat, a member of the Abu Nidal terrorist organization, had surrendered in Baghdad. Abu Nidal, who died in Baghdad last year under murky circumstances, led a terror campaign blamed for more than 275 deaths on several continents.

    In addition to al-Azzawi, other figures from the most-wanted list captured previously include Saddam's top science adviser, Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi; Saddam's half brothers Watban Ibrahim Hasan and Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, and Samir Abd al-Aziz al-Najim, a senior leader of Saddam's toppled Baath party. Al-Ani was not on the most-wanted list.