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Pentagon Spokeswoman: Coalition 'Feeding, Helping Muslims'

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 2, 2003 – Working from the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words, Pentagon officials this afternoon showed reporters and a live television audience around the world photographs of coalition forces providing food aid to Iraqi civilians.

"The coalition forces are the ones helping and feeding Muslims in Iraq," Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke said at a Pentagon briefing. Her comments came in response to calls the Iraqi government has made for Muslims to rise up against Americans.

She added that two American ships will deliver more than 50,000 tons of wheat enough to feed 4 million to 5 million Iraqis for a month "within just a few days."

As Operation Iraqi Freedom is now in its 13th day, Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director of operations for the Joint Staff, announced coalition forces are within 30 miles of Baghdad.

Since the operation began, coalition forces have fired more than 700 cruise missiles and more than 10,000 precision- guided munitions, McChrystal said. He showed a gun-camera video clip from an Air Force F-117 stealth fighter that dropped a precision-guided weapon on an Iraqi surface-to- air missile facility on Baghdad's southwestern outskirts.

Coalition forces today are engaging Iraqi Republican Guard divisions protecting the capital. Some of these units have been damaged to the extent that they "can no longer act as a coherent element on the battlefield," McChrystal said.

He described enemy contact today as "sporadic, but not able to stop coalition maneuver."

This doesn't mean they no longer pose a threat to coalition forces. McChrystal explained there are still "pockets of resistance" within these units. "There remains tough fighting ahead," the general warned.

American and other coalition forces are preparing for a tough fight and stiff resistance in and around Baghdad in coming days. "We are not expecting to drive into Baghdad suddenly and seize it in a 'coup de main' or anything like that," McChrystal said. (A coup de main is an offensive operation based on surprise and simultaneous execution of supporting operations to achieve success in one swift stroke.)

Iraqi chemical and biological capabilities are a specific concern to coalition commanders as friendly forces tighten the noose around Baghdad. McChrystal noted the Iraqi regime has proven its propensity to use such weapons.

"Clearly, as we threaten the core of the regime, which Baghdad and Tikrit represent, we believe that the likelihood of them using those weapons goes up," he said. He added that such an action would be a war crime and a "grave mistake" but still would not stop the coalition advance.

Clarke also highlighted a bit of good news that has been overshadowed by the excitement surrounding the rescue of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the West Virginian held captive by Iraqi forces. With little fanfare, coalition forces have managed to secure the Hadithah Dam, which is on the Euphrates River in northern Iraq.

Before the war began, defense officials had expressed concern that Saddam Hussein might destroy the dam and cause widespread flooding as part of a "scorched earth" policy.

"(With) the kinds of economic and environmental damage they've wreaked on the country before, the possibility of them doing it again was pretty high," Clarke said. "So (securing this dam is) a very good sign of the progress we're making."

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