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Situation in Iraq Brightening; Troops Still in Danger

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 16, 2003 – The situation on the ground "continues to brighten in Iraq," the Pentagon's chief spokeswoman said in the Pentagon today. "But our troops are still putting their lives on the line, and the work is still dangerous."

American and other coalition forces are working with local Iraqi leaders, clerics and "ordinary civilians" to rehabilitate the country, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Torie Clarke said in a Pentagon briefing.

She added that rebuilding isn't necessary just because of the war, "but because of nearly three decades of neglect and devastation by the (Saddam) Hussein regime."

Iraqi civilians are cooperating more every day in helping to root out "regime remnants" and find caches of weapons. "School after school after school is cleared (of) the weapons and ammunition stored there by Iraqi forces," Clarke said.

More countries "come to the aid of the Iraqi people" every day, as well, Clarke said. Australia is providing "three planeloads" of medical supplies and will spend $60 million on humanitarian aid for Iraq.

Also, Kuwait flew 24 tons of medical supplies into Baghdad over the weekend, and Turkey sent 1 million liters of water to the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk. The Spanish ship Galicia delivered humanitarian aid and military vehicles and supplies to Iraq.

"As the aid flows to many places throughout the country," Clarke said, "more and more Iraqis are stepping forward to provide useful information and work with coalition forces on restoring police forces, providing electrical power, reopening schools and getting clean water flowing again.

During the briefing, Clarke showed a short video clip of American military service members working with Iraqi civilians in Nasiriyah to repair a water treatment plant.

She also spoke briefly about the meeting April 15 in Nasiriyah of American, Iraqi and other international representatives regarding the formation of an interim authority.

"This was the first of many meetings as the Iraqi people begin to chart their future course free of the oppression of the Hussein dictatorship," Clarke said.

She said the coalition role in this process is "to create the conditions so that the Iraqi people can rebuild their country."

It's likely that "a joint task force of some type," reporting directly to Army Gen. Tommy Franks would be set up in Iraq "at some point," said Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal during the briefing. Franks is overall commander of operations in the Gulf, while McChrystal is vice director of operations for the Joint Staff.

U.S. Central Command currently is being run from a forward- deployed headquarters in Qatar. The unit's home base is in Tampa, Fla.

McChrystal said such a forward headquarters would make communications with units in the country easier, and it would give the officer running the show "the feeling of mud between his toes."

"There's no replacing walking on the ground, leading your people, getting a feel for the situation that you just can't get from any distance away," the McChrystal said.

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