'A Good Day' Rumsfeld Says, But More to Do in Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 9, 2003 The television pictures from Baghdad today were unmistakable and compelling: Iraqis and Americans joining to rip down a statue of Saddam Hussein. Other Iraqis burned pictures of the Iraqi dictator. Still others welcomed American soldiers and Marines as liberators.
"This is a good day for the Iraqi people," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said with characteristic understatement. "Certainly anyone seeing the faces of the liberated Iraqis has to say this is a very good day."
Rumsfeld briefed the Pentagon press corps today. He said the Iraqis in Baghdad had finally "tipped" toward the coalition. As the Iraqis see the coalition progress, they are losing their fear of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, the secretary said. "I think it is safe to say, that the mood in the country is in fact tipping at least in Baghdad."
Rumsfeld noted that Operation Iraqi Freedom is a day shy of three weeks old and coalition soldiers and Marines are in Baghdad. "The progress of the men and women in uniform who make up the coalition forces has been nothing short of spectacular," he said.
Since the beginning of the operation, coalition forces have secured the southern oil fields. They have opened the port of Umm Qasr so supplies including humanitarian goods can flow in, he noted. They have attacked terrorist camps in the northern part of the country. They occupied airfields in western Iraq and stopped the regime from firing ballistic missiles at its neighbors.
"They've liberated cities and towns and are now in the Iraqi capital, removing the regime from its seat of power and its center of gravity," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld said the images he has seen from Baghdad today reminded him of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain.
"We're seeing history unfold and events that will shape the course of a country, the fate of a people and potentially the future of the region," he said. "Saddam Hussein is now taking his rightful place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed brutal dictators. And the Iraqi people are well on their way to freedom."
Still, he is not declaring victory. "There is no question but that there are difficult and dangerous days ahead, and that the fighting will continue for some days ahead," he said.
The secretary pointed out that there are many missions that coalition forces still need to finish. "We still must capture, account for or otherwise deal with Saddam Hussein and his sons and the senior leadership," he said.
Coalition forces must find and ensure the safe return of prisoners of war "those captured in this war or those still held from the last Gulf War."
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard Myers also addressed the POW issue. "To those who may be holding any coalition prisoners of war, permit the International Red Cross to visit them," the general said. "The Geneva Convention requires you to ensure their health and well-being. When the hostilities end, we fully expect to find these young men and women in good health and well cared for."
Coalition forces must secure the northern oil fields, which have some 40 percent of Iraq's oil wealth and are probably wired for destruction by the doomed regime, he said.
Coalition forces must find and secure Iraq's weapons of mass destruction facilities and secure Iraq's borders to prevent the flow of WMD materials and senior regime officials out of the country. The secretary said the United States is concerned that regime members may try to export either these weapons or the expertise to make them to terrorist groups.
"And the thought that as part of this process, those materials could leave the country and in the hands of terrorist networks would be a very unhappy prospect," he said. "So it is important to us to see that that doesn't happen."
Coalition forces must still capture or kill the terrorists still operating in Iraq and prevent them from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction, Myers said.
The coalition also must begin the process of working with Iraqis to establish an interim authority and pave the way for a new Iraqi government.
Myers said he hopes Muslims around the world understand what this coalition effort means. "I think the thing that the folks ought to notice out in the region, that it was the United States and our coalition partners who wanted to put our blood and treasure on the line for a couple of large Muslim populations: one in Afghanistan, and now in Iraq," he said.
Myers said the means in both places differed, but the objectives were essentially the same. "And that is provide an environment for security and stability, a chance for self-governance, a better future for themselves and their families than they've ever had before," he pointed out.
"I hope that was noticed, because it was our blood and treasure that we put on the line to do this, and as the secretary said, with no desire to be there one moment longer than required to give them that kind of future."