Coalition Forces in Commuting Distance to Downtown Baghdad
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 3, 2003 Coalition forces have taken outlying areas of Baghdad "and are closer to the center of the Iraqi capital than many American commuters are to their downtown offices," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at the Pentagon today.
The secretary said the people of Iraq are beginning to realize the coalition is the force that cares about the Iraqi people. He praised the action of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, a Shiite cleric imprisoned by Saddam Hussein, who issued a fatwah telling the Iraqi people to remain calm and not hinder coalition forces.
U.S. Central Command officials today issued a warning that regime forces may launch a bombing campaign in several Baghdad Shiite neighborhoods in hopes of blaming the coalition.
"The people of Baghdad know this regime well," Rumsfeld said. "They've been living with it. They know there probably isn't a more vicious regime on the face of the Earth."
News reports indicate that Army 5th Corps units are approaching Saddam International Airport, west of Baghdad. Responding to, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard Myers had no explanation for reports that the troops are fighting in darkness because of a power outage in the city. The coalition did not target the city's electrical grid, he said.
Army and Marine forces crashed through the Iraqi Republican Guard yesterday and are closing the ring around Saddam Hussein's regime, Rumsfeld said. While the progress is good, the secretary stressed that the hardest fighting may lie ahead.
Coalition air attacks on the Republican Guard forces paved the way for the ground forces, Rumsfeld said. "The Baghdad and Medina divisions have suffered serious blows," he said. "Some units are laying down their arms and surrendering to coalition forces, wisely choosing not to die fighting for a doomed regime."
There has been such attrition among the Republican Guard units that Iraqi leaders have put regular army units in with the elite formations, the secretary said.
Neither the secretary nor the chairman would forecast future operations. But, Rumsfeld said, while the regime has been weakened, it is still lethal. "It may prove to be more lethal in the final moments before it ends," he said in clear reference to the Iraqi regime's chemical and biological arms arsenal.
The secretary said no one knows what the regime will do. "What we do know is the strategy is working. The coalition has secured the majority of Iraq's oil wealth for the Iraqi people, secured key roads and bridges leading to Baghdad and is now arrived near the regime's doorstep, all in just two weeks," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld said Iraqi troops should turn on Saddam Hussein and help the forces of Iraq's liberation. "I must say, however, that given the conduct of the Iraqi regime, it increasingly seems that Iraq is running out of real soldiers, and soon all that will be left are war criminals," he said.
Rumsfeld and Myers both slammed rumors of third countries trying to broker a deal for the Iraqi regime. "There is not question but that some governments are discussing, from time to time, cutting a deal," he said.
"The inevitable effect of it ... is to give hope and comfort to the Saddam Hussein regime and give them ammunition to retain the loyalty of their forces with the hope that maybe he'll survive. One more time, maybe he'll be there for a decade or so, for another 17 or 18 U.N. resolutions.
"There's not a chance that there will be a deal," the secretary continued. "It doesn't matter who proposes it, there will not be one."
Myers said that if other governments are giving hope to the regime, "it has the potential to prolong the conflict, and it has the potential for both Iraqi civilian casualties and coalition casualties to increase."