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Iraqi Regime in 'Disarray,' Officials Concerned About Prisoners

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 9, 2003 – Saddam Hussein's regime is in "disarray, and much of Iraq is free from years of oppression," a U.S. Central Command spokesman said today.

"Televisions across the world today are filled with images of jubilant Iraqis who know the regime is coming to an end," CENTCOM spokesman Army Brig. Gen. Vince Brooks said in a press briefing at forward headquarters in Qatar.

Operationally, coalition aircraft have attacked five airfields north of Baghdad and continue to target "regime leadership complexes and capabilities," Brooks said.

Special operations forces are working deliberately and effectively throughout the country. In the past day they have coordinated an attack on a Ba'ath Party headquarters near the city of al Qaim in far western Iraq and, working with Kurdish fighters, seized a small town about 25 kilometers north of Mosul, where they captured roughly 200 enemy troops.

Army 5th Corps troops continue to operate in Baghdad. They have increased security west of the city's rivers and are beginning to transition to humanitarian operations in those areas, Brooks said.

In Karbala, soldiers from the Army's 101st Airborne Division discovered "weapons caches of varying sizes," many inside schools, he said.

The 1st Marines Expeditionary Force continues operations inside Baghdad and its attack near al Amarah. Brooks described "minimal resistance" from the two Iraqi divisions near al Amarah. "The divisions had already abandoned their weapons and departed the battlefield after a period of air attacks, leaflet drops and also following the liberation of Basra," he said.

Farther south in Basra, coalition forces began their transition from combat operations to "security and stability efforts," Brooks said. They continue to expand this influence north toward Baghdad.

In areas that are already free of regime influence, coalition forces are beginning to concentrate on humanitarian operations. Ships carrying humanitarian supplies from the United Kingdom, Australia and Spain have arrived in Umm Qasr.

"There are large volumes of humanitarian supplies that are beginning to flow now for the Iraqi people," Brooks said.

Also in liberated areas, a "determined effort" is under way to restore function to civilian medical facilities. Throughout Iraq, coalition forces are finding medical facilities that were destroyed or rendered unusable when Iraqi forces used them for military operations. Whenever possible, coalition military medical personnel are treating Iraqi civilians, Brooks said.

Such efforts are further along in southern areas of the country than closer to Baghdad. "We're not quite at the same (level of humanitarian assistance) at the front end of the spear as we are on the long handle of the spear that leads back down to the Kuwaiti border," the general said.

He noted that a Spanish field hospital should arrive by ship "sometime later today" at the port of Umm Qasr. "That will also significantly increase the medical support that's available in southern Iraq," he said.

Many areas in Baghdad and parts of southern Iraq are clearly supportive of coalition forces. "(The troops') encounters with the Iraqi population have been positive and receptive, and this is particularly in Shia areas that had been the most suppressed by the regime's security organizations," Brooks said. "And there are even messages of support being broadcast from mosques from the area of Saddam City on the northeast corner of Baghdad."

The civilian response in other areas "that the regime may still have influence, either physically or just by lingering senses of intimidation or potential retribution" has been more subdued, he said.

"But we're not finding hostile behavior from the population," Brooks added. "We believe that the population recognizes that the end is near for this regime, if it has not already occurred, and they are certainly supporting the actions of the coalition throughout."

Brooks confirmed reports that American military uniforms had been found at the Rasheed prison. He said they did have names on them but refused to go into any further detail. He said officials are concerned about prisoners, including "those that are unaccounted for from previous conflicts."

Brooks mentioned no names, but U.S. Navy pilot Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher is still unaccounted for from Operation Desert Storm in 1991. His F/A-18 Hornet fighter was shot down by enemy fire during the first day of the air war over Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991.

"We remain concerned about those who are unaccounted for," Brooks said. "And we hold the regime -- whatever remains of it or whoever might have our prisoners of war in possession -- accountable and responsible for anything that happens to them at this point."

He also mentioned that coalition forces have taken more than 7,000 prisoners of war, all of whom are being treated humanely, fully in compliance with the Geneva Conventions and being afforded medical care where appropriate.

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