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DoD Leaders Detail War Progress, Death Squad Atrocities

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2003 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld gave details of Saddam Hussein's death squads, during a Pentagon press briefing today.

He also warned Iraq's neighbors Syria and Iran not to interfere with coalition combat operations in Iraq.

Finally, the secretary and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a rundown of coalition military successes of the past eight days. Coalition success can lead to more uncertainties and has served to drive Saddam's death squads to more excesses, the men observed.

"Each day, more coalition forces flow into country, and each day more Iraqi forces surrender," Rumsfeld said. "The regime knows this. Already they have deployed death squads into Iraqi cities to terrorize civilians and to try to prevent them from welcoming coalition forces." The secretary said the death squads are threatening regular Iraqi soldiers with death in order to compel them to fight for the regime.

"These death squads report to the Hussein family directly," Rumsfeld said. "Their ranks are populated by criminals released from Iraqi prisons, they dress in civilian clothes and operate from private homes confiscated from innocent people and try to blend in with the civilian population."

The death squads conduct executions on sidewalks and public squares. They cut the tongues out of those accused of disloyalty and use swords to behead people, he said.

"They put on American and British uniforms to try to fool regular Iraqi soldiers into surrendering to them and then execute them as an example for others who might contemplate defection or capitulation," Rumsfeld said.

These death squads go by the name Fedayeen Saddam, which translates roughly to "Saddam's Martyrs." "Their name is a lie, because their purpose is certainly not to make martyrs of themselves, but to make martyrs of innocent Iraqis opposed to Saddam's rule," Rumsfeld said. "But we will take them at their word, and if their wish is to die for Saddam Hussein, they will be accommodated."

Rumsfeld said the U.S.-led coalition has made solid progress since the ground war started. Coalition forces are now within 50 miles of Baghdad and concentrating on the Iraqi Republican Guard divisions guarding the capital. Coalition air forces are striking targets when and where they want. In the north, the Army's 173rd Airborne has been deploying, and coalition forces have been launching attacks against terrorist groups in the region.

Myers said that eight days into the campaign, coalition forces already control between 35 percent and 40 percent of the country.

Humanitarian aid is already starting to reach the people of Iraq, the secretary said. Coalition maritime forces have cleared a channel 200 yards wide from the Persian Gulf to the port of Umm Qasr. The first ship with humanitarian aid, the HMS Sir Galahad, docked at port facilities today.

British and U.S. troops have taken the southern oil fields, safeguarding them from further regime sabotage.

But still there are doubters.

"In that short period of a week, we have seen mood swings in the media from highs to lows to highs and back again, sometimes in a single 24-hour period," Rumsfeld said. "For some the massive volume of television and breathless reports can seem to be somewhat disorienting.

"Fortunately, my sense is the American people have a very good center of gravity and can absorb and balance what they see and hear."

Rumsfeld had words of warning for Syria and Iran. "We have information that shipments of military supplies have been crossing the border from Syria into Iraq, including night- vision goggles," he said. "These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces. We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments."

He said the entrance into Iraq by "military forces, intelligence personnel or proxies not under the direct operational control of (U.S. Central Command commander) Gen. (Tommy) Franks will be taken as a potential threat to coalition forces." Those forces include the Badr Corps. The corps, which has been around for years, is made up of Shiite Iraqis and is sponsored, sheltered and armed by Iran.

"We will hold the Iranian government responsible for their actions and will view Badr Corps activity inside Iraq as unhelpful," he said. "Armed Badr Corps members found in Iraq will have to be treated as combatants."

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