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Progress Made in Iraq, but Deaths Hammer Home the Danger

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2003 – Coalition personnel are making progress in Iraq, but the recent deaths of American and British soldiers show the world is still engaged in a dangerous war against terrorism, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said during a Pentagon briefing today.

Four U.S. soldiers have been killed during the last eight days, and news reports indicate today that six British soldiers were killed while patrolling an area northwest of Basra. "Every day ... throughout the world, brave men and women risk their lives to defend us all from terror," Rumsfeld said. "They will certainly be called upon to do so for the foreseeable future."

The secretary listed indications of coalition progress. He said they have captured 32 of the 55 regime "most wanted" and have killed two others. He also noted that coalition officials are working to rebuild an Iraqi army that does not terrorize its own people and will help provide the needed security in the country.

Myers said the coalition forces are putting pressure on opposition in Iraq. "We continue to be aggressive in rooting out pockets of resistance made up of paramilitary forces and Baath Party personnel," Myers said.

"In recent weeks, we have achieved considerable success in such operations as Desert Scorpion and Peninsula Strike. These operations consist of a series of coordinated raids designed to counter the efforts of those who still oppose Iraq becoming a free nation."

Myers said that while the United States has brought home 130,000 troops from the region, there are 146,000 U.S. personnel in Iraq.

"They are making progress against the 'dead-enders' who are harassing coalition forces," Rumsfeld said. "Just as they were unable to stop the coalition advance to Baghdad, the death squads will not stop our commitment to create security and stability in post-war Iraq."

Rumsfeld said the search for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction continues. He stated that it is still early, and he related anecdotal evidence from the past about the difficulty of locating anything in Iraq.

He mentioned how U.N. inspectors had searched for nine months and had found no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program. They were ready to announce that fact, and were persuaded not to, Rumsfeld said. Three months later, a defector came forward and provided them proof that Iraq did indeed have a nuclear weapons program, the secretary said.

Coalition forces have been on the ground just eight weeks, Rumsfeld noted, and he has no doubt that the coalition will find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He pointed out that before the war no one - not intelligence services, not the Congress, not the United Nations, not even countries that opposed action in Iraq - doubted that Saddam Hussein had a weapons program.

"If Saddam Hussein in fact disarmed, then why didn't he take the final opportunity the U.N. afforded him, to prove that his programs were ended and his weapons destroyed? Why did he give up tens of billions of dollars of oil revenues under U.N. sanctions when he could have had those sanctions lifted simply by demonstrating that he had disarmed?" Rumsfeld asked.

"If he had in fact disarmed, he had everything to gain and nothing to lose by cooperation with the U.N. Yet he continued to lie and obstruct the U.N. inspectors."

Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers also spoke about last week's action against regime targets that may have spilled into Syria.

On June 18, U.S. special operations forces attacked former regime leadership targets. Myers and Rumsfeld said the intelligence leading to the attack came from information gleaned from senior regime officials in coalition custody. Myers said that Task Force 20 struck two elements: one on a highway, one in a compound. He said coalition officials continue to gather information about the attack.

Rumsfeld and Myers promised more information as it becomes available.

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