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April 9, 2003

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POWs Are Top Iraq Priority, Rumsfeld Says
Finding POWs, Securing Oil Fields Are Top Priorities for U.S. Forces in Iraq, Rumsfeld Says

The Associated Press

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With the fall of Baghdad, top priorities for American forces in Iraq now are recovering U.S. prisoners of war including any still alive from the 1991 Gulf War securing the northern oil fields and unearthing illegal weapons, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday.

Another must is to capture "or otherwise deal with" Saddam Hussein and his sons, Rumsfeld said.

At a Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld and his top military adviser, Gen. Richard Myers, attempted to strike a balance between celebration and caution declaring the Iraqi president's rule all but dead but also emphasizing that much remains to be done before U.S. troops can go home.

U.S. troops have been through most areas of Baghdad, Pentagon officials said later Wednesday. Sporadic attacks from pockets of resistance continued, but no organized, large-scale fighting, officials said.

Rumsfeld listed eight missions in Iraq that must be completed "before victory can be declared."

He mentioned first the need to "capture, account for or otherwise deal with" Saddam, his sons Qusai and Odai, and other senior members of the government whom he did not mention by name.

Rumsfeld said he didn't know whether Saddam and his sons escaped the U.S. bombing Monday of a building in Baghdad where U.S. intelligence believed they were attending a meeting. And he made no promises about finding the Iraqi leader.

"It is hard to find a single person," he said, adding later, "He's either dead or he's incapacitated or he's healthy and cowering in some tunnel some place trying to avoid being caught."

Senior White House officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there is no checklist that must be completed before Bush declares victory. The end could come before some of Rumsfeld's stated missions are achieved, possibly including the confirmation of Saddam's fate, they said.

Rumsfeld listed these other remaining U.S. tasks:

Discover more about how Saddam built his weapons programs and locate Iraqi scientists with knowledge of them. He said U.S. government rewards are being offered to further those goals.

Capture or kill terrorists still operating in Iraq.

Find members of Saddam's Baath Party and their records and weapons caches. Also, locate records of the Iraqi intelligence service and other security organizations and paramilitaries.

Work with Iraqis, including those who are returning from exile, to establish an interim government authority.

The air campaign in Iraq is slowing somewhat, now that Baghdad resistance has been broken. But U.S. ground forces are as busy as ever, and within a few days they are expected to be bolstered by the deployment of a portion of the Army's 4th Infantry Division into Iraq. The 4th Infantry is still assembling in Kuwait and is preparing to join the fight in central or northern Iraq, a senior defense official said Wednesday. Other follow-on forces may come later.

Rumsfeld said Syria was being "notably unhelpful" by permitting senior Iraqi officials and some of their family members to slip into their country, and he accused the Syrians of ignoring an earlier warning to stop supplying Iraq with military equipment like night vision goggles.

"We are getting scraps of intelligence saying that Syria has been cooperative in facilitating the movement of people out of Iraq into Syria," Rumsfeld said. Some have stayed in Syria for "safekeeping," while others transited Syria to other countries he did not mention by name.

Myers, appearing with Rumsfeld, urged any Iraqis who are holding American POWs to permit the International Red Cross to visit them as required under international conventions.

"When the hostilities end, we fully expect to find these young men and women in good health and well cared for," Myers said.

The Pentagon lists seven American POWs all Army soldiers. Six are male and one is female. There also are eleven U.S. servicemen listed as missing, including two Air Force pilots of an F-15E fighter lost Sunday near Tikrit, north of Baghdad. As of Wednesday, 101 U.S. servicemen had been killed in action since the war began March 20, according to the Pentagon.

Rumsfeld also alluded to the undetermined fate of the only remaining POW from the first Gulf War, Navy F/A-18 pilot Scott Speicher. Without mentioning him by name, Rumsfeld said U.S. forces in Iraq must "ensure the safe return of prisoners of war those captured in this war, as well as any still held from the last Gulf War, Americans and other nationals." His reference to "other nationals" apparently meant Kuwaitis who remain unaccounted for from 1991.

Marines who captured Rasheed air base just southeast of Baghdad found uniforms believed to be those of at least two U.S. POWs. Some of the uniforms reportedly had blood stains and bullet holes.

The uniforms were found in a military prison at Rasheed where U.S. POWs were held in the 1991 war.

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, the Central Command deputy director of operations, said Wednesday that some of the uniforms found in the prison had names on them. He declined to identify them.

The United States says it has about 7,300 Iraqi POWs and the International Red Cross is getting access to them.

photo credit and caption:
U.S. Army soldiers from A Company 3rd Battalion 7th Infantry Regiment prepare to return fire on Iraqi fighters in Baghdad, Iraq Wednesday, April 9, 2003. (AP Photo/John Moore)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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