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March 21, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Rumsfeld: Saddam Losing Control of Iraq
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Says Saddam Hussein's Regime 'Starting to Lose Control' of Iraq

The Associated Press


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WASHINGTON March 21

In escalating the aerial bombardment of Iraq on Friday, U.S. commanders crossed a threshold in a psychological campaign meant to unravel the Iraqi government.

They hoped that the promise of hundreds more airstrikes throughout the country, plus the advance of thousands of American ground troops toward the gates of Baghdad, would compel key people in President Saddam Hussein's inner circle to turn on him, U.S. officials said.

"They're beginning to realize, I suspect, that the regime is history," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference. "And as that realization sets in, their behavior is likely to begin to tip and to change. Those close to Saddam Hussein will likely begin searching for a way to save themselves."

A large part of Saddam's defenses for southern Iraq fell Friday as Iraq's 51st Infantry Division surrendered en masse to coalition forces, defense officials said. The division, which had about 8,000 soldiers and 200 tanks before the war, was among the regular Iraqi army's better trained and equipped units.

The division was one of three based in far southern Iraq, the main heavy division defending Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.

But the time for capitulation was rapidly expiring. Pentagon officials speaking on condition of anonymity said as many as 1,500 Air Force and Navy bombs and missiles would hammer targets throughout Iraq in the 24 hours after the accelerated air campaign began Friday.

One senior official said Gen. Tommy Franks, who is running the war from a command post in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, would calibrate the intensity of the air war to build maximum pressure on Saddam's lieutenants.

By early next week, however, U.S. ground forces led by the Army's 3rd Infantry Division are likely to be at the outskirts of Baghdad.

"The intention is to convince the regime that it is time to leave, and if they don't we will try to take them out by force," Rear Adm. Matthew G. Moffit, commander of the USS Kitty Hawk battle group in the northern Persian Gulf, told reporters moments after Friday's air attacks began.

The Kitty Hawk is one of five U.S. aircraft carriers whose F/A-18 Hornets and F-14 Tomcats are flying missions against Iraq. Hundreds more Air Force planes heavy bombers as well as fighter jets are attacking from air bases in Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and elsewhere in the region.

Ships and submarines in the Navy battle groups launched hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles, which use satellite signals to guide their 1,000-pound warheads to buildings and other fixed targets.

In the opening hours of Friday's assault, bombs struck military command and control installations, government buildings and other targets in Baghdad as well as the northern cities of Kirkuk, Mosul and Tikrit, according to a statement by Central Command's air headquarters in Saudi Arabia.

The statement did not identify the aircraft involved, but other officials said they included Air Force F-15E and F-16 fighters as well as B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers and F-117A stealth fighter-bombers. They flew from airfields as far away as Whiteman Air Force, Mo., and about 30 bases in the Middle East. The Navy's missions were all flown from carriers.

A senior defense official familiar with air war planning said all the bombs and missiles dropped Friday were "smart" weapons with laser or satellite guidance as opposed to "dumb" bombs guided only by gravity. During the 1991 Gulf War only about 10 percent of bombs dropped were "smart."

President Bush said he was pleased with the war's progress, but the United States and Britain sustained casualties. Two U.S. Marines were killed in combat Friday in southern Iraq, and four U.S. Marines and eight British Marines were killed when their helicopter crashed in Kuwait. U.S. authorities originally reported that 12 British Marines had died, but that was revised to eight.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Bush administration had opened a number of channels to Iraq's military leaders to urge them to give up.

"It would be wise for Iraq's leaders to realize their day is over," he said.

Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference it was clear that the initial series of airstrikes including an attack Wednesday on a residence where Saddam may have been present had caused serious problems for the Iraqi government.

"The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing," Rumsfeld said.

Rumsfeld said no high-level U.S.-Iraqi surrender talks were under way, but he alluded to other "contacts."

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, discussed the surrender talks in an interview Friday.

"We've been working on that for some time and I'm sure when the commander in the Republican Guard gets a cell phone call and it is from an American who can speak his language, that may be a surprise but it certainly indicates to him that he might really want to think about a change of direction."

Roberts said unidentified third countries were involved in the talks.


photo credit and caption:
Saddam Hussein, seen in this image from video broadcast on Iraqi television Friday, March 21, 2003, takes notes during a meeting. Iraq's forces appeared cut off from their leadership after a U.S. attack on a Baghdad compound that intelligence officials believe struck while Saddam Hussein and possibly his sons were still inside, U.S. officials said. (AP Photo/Iraqi TV via APTN)

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

 
 
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