Coalition on Track to Baghdad

By Jim Garamone, AFPS

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2003 – Just a few days of ground combat, coalition forces are more than 200 miles into Iraq and poised to take on forces defending Baghdad, U.S. and British defense leaders said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard Myers told reporters at a Pentagon press conference that the plan to disarm Saddam Hussein and liberate the Iraqi people is on track. As part of the war plan, more U.S. troops are flowing into the region, Rumsfeld said.

"There is a force flow that’s been put in place weeks and weeks and weeks ago, where people were mobilized, people were trained, … equipment was loaded on ships, ships were leased, ships were sent over, ships moved into position, ships were unloaded, personnel were airlifted over to meet with their equipment," he said. "And every hour the number of U.S. and coalition forces in that country are increasing."

Myers called the plan put in place by U.S. Central Command "brilliant." He said most of the casualties sustained by coalition forces have been as a result of Iraqi committing serious violations of the law of armed conflict and the Geneva Conventions. And while embedded reporters show skirmishes in Iraq, he is satisfied with the progress.

"We’ve been at it now for less than a week," Myers said. "We’re just about to Baghdad."
Rumsfeld addressed reports that there was a "red line" — as some news stories called it — around Baghdad where local Iraqi commanders could use chemical and biological weapons.
"There has been intelligence scraps, who knows how accurate they are, chatter in the system that suggest that the closer that coalition forces get to Baghdad and Tikrit, the greater the likelihood and that some command and control arrangements (to use chemical weapons) have been put in place," Rumsfeld said. "But whether it will happen or not remains to be seen."

The secretary said the mere fact that this is a possibility restates the reason the coalition must take on Hussein. "Those who behave with such brutality cannot be allowed to possess tools of mass murder," he said. "This is the behavior of desperate men. Iraqi authorities know their days are numbered. And while the Iraqi regime is on the way out, it’s important to know that it can still be brutal, particularly in the moments before it finally succumbs." He said the campaign could "grow more dangerous in the coming days and weeks as coalition forces close on Baghdad and the regime is faced with its certain death."

Rumsfeld responded to analysts who insist that the coalition plan is seriously flawed. He said many experts made the same criticism about operations in Afghanistan. "Then Mazar-e Sharif fell," he said.

Myers said that there are uprisings in Basra against the Iraqi paramilitary forces. "Clearly, … the people in Basra, I think for the most part, would be happy to be done with this regime," he said. "But they’re not going to do so as long as they think there’s a shred of evidence that there’s going to be some threat against them."

Myers said the people of Basra remember 1991 when they rose against Saddam Hussein. "Hundreds of thousands were killed because they thought they had a chance for a popular uprising, and … the backing didn’t materialize the way they thought it was going to materialize," he said. "And so I think we have, rightly so, some very cautious people."

Myers said the Fedayeen Saddam and Republican Guard that may have come south to Basra in civilian clothes are more akin to terrorists than soldiers. He said these men are intimidating the people of Basra, but that coalition force "will start working that."

Rumsfeld reminded everyone that the war is only five days old. "We’re still, needless to say, much closer to the beginning than the end," he said. "The men and women in the uniform … are performing superbly. They’re doing an outstanding job."

He said planners expected the Iraqi resistance and that it has not affected coalition progress. "Iraqi forces are capitulating by the hundreds," he said. "The total now, as I understand it … was something in excess of 3,500 Iraqi prisoners of war and thousands more that have been part of units that have simply disbanded.

"With each passing day, the Iraqi regime is losing control over more of the country," he continued. "Coalition forces are closing in on Baghdad and will not stop until that regime has been driven from power. Their defeat is certain. All that is unclear is the number of days or weeks it will take."