U.S. soldiers, some still caked with desert sand, began leaving Saudi Arabia Thursday in the first large-scale troop departures from the Persian Gulf. They left behind an Iraq where Saddam Hussein's troops were said to be executing dissidents and scattering the corpses in the streets.

Jubilant American soldiers made V-for-victory signs as they boarded military transport planes in the Saudi desert where they had spent nearly seven months training, waiting - and finally fighting a lightning war."We've done what the world wanted us to do," said 2nd Lt. Alfred Sullivan, 25, of Montgomery, Ala. "Now it's time to go home."

Troops from some units began arriving in Britain and Germany Thursday on their way home.

In the Saudi capital of Riyadh, allied and Iraqi commanders were meeting to discuss some of war's unfinished business: repatriation of remains, return of Iraqi prisoners, and missing persons.

The missing include about three dozen foreign journalists who vanished while trying to cover the anti-Saddam rebellion that flared in southern Iraq after the allies routed Iraq's troops last week, ending the war.

A Red Cross official in Kuwait City, Gian Battista Beccheta, said Thursday that Iraqi officials told the Red Cross that 29 of the journalists would be turned over to the humanitarian organization as early as Friday.

He also said the Iraqis would be releasing about 2,000 Kuwaitis who had been held hostage.

The war's end only brought new fighting in southern Iraq, where refugees said Saddam's Republican Guard used tanks and artillery to overpower insurgents in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.

The refugees said that government troops, as they regained control, executed some backers of the uprising, displaying their bodies around the city to discourage further unrest.

The civil strife was only one of a host of problems facing postwar Iraq. A United Nations official told reporters in Jordan that the threat of cholera and typhoid epidemics in Iraq is increasing as temperatures rise. Iraq has not said how many people died in the war, but the number is believed to run into the tens of thousands.

The soldiers who left the gulf Thursday will begin arriving at home bases on Friday, and the U.S. Central Command said about 7,000 troops should be home by Saturday, and another 7,000 would follow shortly.

"I'm glad to get home," said Specialist Keith West, 21, of Omaha, Neb. "I'm planning to spend about three days in a Holiday Inn and get the Iraqi dirt off me."