Possible Chemical Site Found, Rumsfeld Details Progress
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 7, 2003 Embedded media are reporting that U.S. soldiers have found Iraqi chemical agents, but Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he will wait for more information before making a statement.
Reporters with the 101st Airborne Division outside Karbala said that preliminary tests of the suspected chemicals indicate they are Sarin nerve agent and mustard gas.
Rumsfeld, speaking during a Pentagon news conference, said he is leery of first reports. "We have to recognize that almost all first reports we get are wrong," he said. "There tend to be changes in them. As a result we have to take our time and look at them."
The secretary said that if the chemicals are found to be weapons of mass destruction, there will be an announcement. The secretary said it takes days to get samples from the battlefield to laboratories. He said officials will follow, as closely as possible under battlefield conditions, a chain of custody for any samples.
Rumsfeld said the war against the Iraqi regime is going well. Coalition forces are operating in and around Baghdad, on the ground and the air. "The regime's leaders are increasingly isolated," he said. "The circle is closing, and their options are running out."
The secretary said he doesn't know where Saddam Hussein is, or if he is alive or wounded, but he does know "that he no longer runs much of Iraq."
Iraqi forces are surrendering or disappearing, Rumsfeld said.
British forces have control of large parts of Basra. "They are performing well in liberating the city from death squads that have terrorized the local population," he said.
Rumsfeld also said that he believes the coalition killed "Chemical Ali" Ali Hassan al-Najeed. Hussein's henchman was in charge of defenses in Basra. "To Iraqis who have suffered from his hand, particularly in the past few weeks, he will never again terrorize you or your families," he said.
Rumsfeld said that while coalition forces have accomplished much since the beginning of the campaign, much remains to be done. As he spoke, a list of those Americans who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom scrolled on a television screen behind him.
Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a brief look at developments in Operation Iraqi Freedom since he last spoke to the press on April 3. He said there are now more than 340,000 coalition forces in the region, with more than 125,000 inside Iraq.
"We've secured Baghdad International Airport and have begun using it for coalition missions," he said. "We've secured most of the major roads into and out of Baghdad. We've visited two of Saddam's presidential palaces."
The chairman said Iraqi Republican Guard divisions have only been able to conduct sporadic attacks against coalition forces. He said of the 800-plus tanks Iraqi forces had on March 19, "all but a couple of dozen have been destroyed or abandoned."
Coalition forces now have more than 7,000 enemy prisoners of war, he said. Civil affairs personnel are restoring power to cities throughout southern Iraq, and "we're delivering a growing amount of humanitarian relief to the Iraqi people in various locations."
Both Rumsfeld and Myers said that as the people of Iraq realize the days of Saddam Hussein are coming to a close, they are assisting coalition forces in identifying locations of weapons caches, as well as the hideouts of the remaining elements of the paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam and the Ba'ath Party members.