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Regime's Collapse Evident, But Hard Fighting Ahead, Cheney Says

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 9, 2003 – The collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad is evident, yet there may still be hard fighting ahead, Vice President Richard Cheney said this morning.

"Until this war is fully won, we cannot be overconfident in our position, and we must not underestimate the desperation of whatever forces remain loyal to the dictator," Cheney said in an address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Saddam's forces have used hospitals, schools and mosques for military operations, he noted. They've tortured and executed prisoners of war and forced women and children to serve as human shields. They've transported death squads in ambulances, fought in civilian clothes, feigned surrender and opened fire on our forces, and shot civilians who welcomed coalition troops.

"In dealing with such an enemy, we must expect vicious tactics until the regime's final breath," he said. "The hardest combat could still be ahead of us. Only the outcome can be predicted with certainty. Iraq will be disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction. The regime will end, and the Iraqi people will be free."

Removing the terror regime from Iraq, he stressed, will send a clear message to all terrorist groups. "The United States and our coalition partners are showing that we have the capacity and the will to wage war on terror and to win decisively," he said.

In Baghdad, Cheney said, people are celebrating in the streets, and remaining pockets of regime forces are far less effective at putting up any resistance. In southern Iraq, British forces are securing Basra, Iraq's second- largest city. Senior religious leaders throughout the country are urging followers to support the coalition, "another sure sign that Saddam Hussein's regime is clearly doomed."

Still, the vice president warned, the war is not over. Regime forces still control northern Iraq, in Mosul and Kirkuk and Tikrit. Coalition forces continue operations throughout Iraq, securing cities, protecting supply lines and delivering humanitarian aid.

"Since the war," Cheney said, "our forces have conducted themselves with all of the skill and integrity that President Bush and the American people expected of them." The vice president also praised the Defense Department's war plan, noting that the war's conclusion "will mark one of the most extraordinary military campaigns ever conducted."

"It's proceeded according to a carefully drawn plan with fixed objectives and flexibility in meeting them," he said. "In the early days of the war, the plan was criticized by some retired military officers embedded in TV studios, but with every day and every advance by our coalition forces, the wisdom of that plan becomes more apparent."

DoD's top leadership and its subordinates have done "a superb job," he said. He named Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander U.S. Central Command; and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, respectively.

"It's been a most impressive performance, and coming on the heels of the Afghanistan operation last year, it's proof positive of the success of our efforts to transform our military to meet the challenges of the 21st century."

Cheney also paid tribute to those who've lost their lives on the field of battle. "We're thinking of these families now with respect and gratitude," he noted, "and this nation will always honor the sacrifices made in our defense."

He also honored NBC's David Bloom and Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly and the other journalists who have died or been killed during the war. He said embedding 600 American journalists in coalition military units across Iraq has made for some outstanding reporting and led to greater respect all around.

"For their part, the troops have come to know reporters who are willing to accept the hardships and dangers of war in order to get the story right," he said. "And journalists have come to know our military not just for the power of its weapons, but by the character of the men and women who serve.

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