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Is Saddam In Control? 'I Don't Know'

US DoD News Briefing by Defence Secretary Rumsfeld and Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Friday, March 21, 2002

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Is Saddam In Control? 'I Don't Know'

Rumsfeld: Good afternoon. Yesterday, four American Marines and eight members of the British armed forces were killed in a helicopter accident returning from a mission in Iraq. And in a separate incident, a U.S. Marine was killed in action during combat operations in Iraq. We are certainly grateful for their lives, their courage, and their sacrifice. And our hearts go out to their families. The world will be a safer place because of their dedicated service.

On the president's order, coalition forces began the ground war to disarm Iraq and liberate the Iraqi people yesterday. And a few minutes ago, the air war in Iraq began.

General Myers will provide some details on the progress of our operation, but first let me comment on the aims and objectives we have for the days ahead.

Our goal is to defend the American people, and to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and to liberate the Iraqi people. Coalition military operations are focused on achieving several specific objectives: to end the regime of Saddam Hussein by striking with force on a scope and scale that makes clear to Iraqis that he and his regime are finished. Next, to identify, isolate and eventually eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, production capabilities, and distribution networks. Third, to search for, capture, drive out terrorists who have found safe harbor in Iraq. Fourth, to collect such intelligence as we can find related to terrorist networks in Iraq and beyond. Fifth, to collect such intelligence as we can find related to the global network of illicit weapons of mass destruction activity. Sixth, to end sanctions and to immediately deliver humanitarian relief, food and medicine to the displaced and to the many needy Iraqi citizens. Seventh, to secure Iraq's oil fields and resources, which belong to the Iraqi people, and which they will need to develop their country after decades of neglect by the Iraqi regime. And last, to help the Iraqi people create the conditions for a rapid transition to a representative self-government that is not a threat to its neighbors and is committed to ensuring the territorial integrity of that country.

The regime is starting to lose control of their country. Yesterday, the Iraqi information minister declared that the port of Umm Qasr is "completely in our hands," quote/unquote. Quote: "They (the coalition forces) failed to capture it," unquote. In fact, coalition forces did capture it and do control the port of Umm Qasr, and also a growing portion of the country of Iraq.

The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing. Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield, to communicate with their forces and to control their country is slipping away. They're beginning to realize, I suspect that the regime is history. 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. Those whose obedience is based on fear may well begin to lose their fear of him. Officers and soldiers in the field will increasingly see that their interests lie not in dying for a doomed regime but in helping the forces of Iraq's liberation.

To those in the Iraqi chain of command, some words of advice: Do not obey regime orders to use weapons of mass destruction. Do not obey orders to use innocent civilians as human shields. Do not follow orders to destroy any more of Iraq's oil wells or to blow up dams or to flood villages. Those who carry out such orders will be found and will be punished.

We are especially grateful for the direct military involvement of the forces of Great Britain and Australia and Poland, and so many other countries. And we are deeply grateful for the support of each of the now 45 nations that have publicly associated themselves with the coalition effort in Iraq.

We did not choose this war. Saddam Hussein was given a choice by the international community: Give up your weapons of mass murder, or lose power. He chose unwisely, and now he will lose both.

As in Afghanistan, our objective in Iraq is not conquest or colonization. Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people. Our objective is to bring down a regime that threatens the American people with weapons of mass destruction and create conditions where Iraqis can establish a new government, one that respects the rights of its diverse population and the aspirations of all Iraqis to live in freedom and to choose their own leaders.

To American forces and those of our coalition partners, let me say this. Know that we are proud of you that we stand with you today. We have every confidence in your courage, your tenacity, and your ability to get this job done. All Americans hold you and your families in our thoughts and prayers today.

General Myers.

Myers: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

I too want to extend my deepest condolences to the families of the Marines, both U.S. and our British allies, who died in the helicopter crash yesterday and to the family of the Marine killed in action earlier this morning. These brave men died fighting for their nation and the safety of the world.

Operation Iraqi Freedom, our effort to disarm Iraq and dismantle the Iraqi regime, is fully underway. But before I go into that, I want to recap what has happened in the last 48 hours and how we got to where we are now.

On Wednesday afternoon, we conducted early battlefield preparations by taking out air defense threats, radar communication sites and artillery that could pose a threat to coalition forces. Some of these targets included radars in western Iraq and near Basra in southern Iraq, artillery pieces near Al-Faw and Az Zubay near Kuwait, and surface-to-surface missiles in the south. Later Wednesday evening, coalition forces began inserting Special Operations Forces throughout western and southern Iraq to conduct reconnaissance operations and take down visual observation posts on the southern Iraqi border.

At the same time, as we briefed yesterday, we took advantage of a leadership target of opportunity in Baghdad. Specifically, we struck at one of the residences in southeastern Baghdad, where we thought the leadership was congregated. We also took down -- struck intelligence service headquarters in Baghdad and a Republican Guard facility. They were targeted with nearly 40 Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles from coalition ships in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Two Air Force F- 117s also dropped precision-guided, 2,000-pound penetration weapons on these leadership targets.

Then yesterday we launched more than 20 TLAMs against eight targets in Baghdad, which included several Baghdad Special Security Organization sites. As most of you know, the Special Security Organization is that organization that protects the senior Iraqi leadership. Also on Thursday, coalition ships launched some 10 TLAMs against three Republican Guard targets in Kirkuk in the north.

In the last 24 hours, Special Forces have seized an airfield in western Iraq and have secured border positions in several key locations. Additionally, Navy Seals and coalition special forces have seized Iraq's two major gas and oil terminals in the northern Persian Gulf. There were embedded media with the Seals, and their reports should be out shortly.

I also have a graphic, I think they'll bring it up -- and it's up now; good. Coalition ships boarded three Iraqi tugboats in the Khor Abdullah waterway and found weapons, uniforms and mines. Over 130 mines, including influence mines, were discovered. Our naval vessels are being extra vigilant to ensure the Iraqi Navy has not placed any mines in international waters.

On the ground, as you know, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, along with our coalition partners, crossed into Iraq, and they have now secured the port city of Umm Qasar and the al-Faw peninsula. They have also secured the main oil manifolds along the al-Faw waterways, and have moved through the southern Iraqi oil fields. These fields, if we're successful, should be secured sometime later today, and they will be a great resource for the Iraqi people as they build a free society.

Last night, at approximately 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time, the rest of the ground campaign began in earnest when the 3rd Infantry Division rolled into southern Iraq. There's been a lot of reporting on this, of course, with some of the embedded media. At this hour, our ground forces have pushed close to 100 miles inside Iraq.

Since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, coalition aircraft have flown more than 1,000 sorties and dropped scores of precision-guided munitions on Iraqi military targets. I have two gun-camera shots from yesterday; both are from F-14s as they dropped on missile targets in southern Iraq. The first is targeting a missile support vehicle. The second is an Iraqi missile storage facility in Basra. And if you note in the bottom of that picture, you'll see another fire; that was hit from a previous strike from the same flight.

As you've seen from the TV coverage, from embedded media, clearly we're moving towards our objectives, but we must not get too comfortable. We're basically on our plan and moving towards Baghdad, but there are still many unknowns out there.

We have dropped millions of leaflets over Iraq telling the Iraqi people our intentions and asking the Iraqi military to lay down their arms. In fact, some Iraqi soldiers are surrendering and abandoning their positions in the south and also in the north. Clearly, many Iraqi military are heeding our message that it is better to fight for the future of Iraq than to fight for Saddam Hussein.

That brings us up to date. So now, within the last hour, coalition forces have launched a massive air campaign throughout Iraq. Several hundred military targets will be hit over the coming hours, but we're getting into future operations here, and I'm going to let those details be briefed by CENTCOM tomorrow.

Finally, I have two messages.

First, to the commanders and soldiers of the Iraqi forces, I urge you in the strongest possible terms: Do the honorable thing, stop fighting that you may live to enjoy a free Iraq where you and your children can grow and prosper.

The second message, to the men and women of our armed forces, and to our allies and our coalition partners and to all their families, I salute you for your sacrifice, your courage and your professionalism. Be confident that you are well prepared, well trained and well supported in the mission that lies ahead. Take pride in the legitimacy and the necessity of your mission. Show compassion for the lives that this war will forever change, but rest assured, the outcome is not in doubt. We will disarm the Iraqi regime and ensure their weapons of mass destruction will not fall into the hands of terrorists.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

Rumsfeld: Before we do, let me make one comment. Just before coming down, after the air campaign began in earnest about on 1:00 [p.m.], I saw some of the images on television and I heard various commentators expansively comparing what's taking place in Iraq today to some of the more famous bombing campaigns of World War II. There is no comparison. The weapons that are being used today have a degree of precision that no one ever dreamt of in a prior conflict -- they didn't exist. And it's not a handful of weapons; it's the overwhelming majority of the weapons that have that precision. The targeting capabilities and the care that goes into targeting to see that the precise targets are struck and that other targets are not struck is as impressive as anything anyone could see. The care that goes into it, the humanity that goes into it, to see that military targets are destroyed, to be sure, but that it's done in a way, and in a manner, and in a direction and with a weapon that is appropriate to that very particularized target. And I think that the comparison is unfortunate and inaccurate. And I think that will be found to be the case when ground truth is achieved.

I would add also that I think we're probably watching something that is somewhat historic. We're having a conflict at a time in our history when we have 24-hours-a-day television, radio, media, Internet, and more people in the world have access to what is taking place. You couple that with the hundreds -- literally hundreds of people in the free press -- the international press, the press of the United States, from every aspect of the media -- who have been offered and accepted an opportunity to join and be connected directly with practically every aspect of this campaign. And what we are seeing is not the war in Iraq. What we're seeing are slices of the war in Iraq. We're seeing that particularized perspective that that reporter, or that commentator or that television camera happens to be able to see at that moment. And it is not what's taking place. What you see is taking place, to be sure, but it is one slice. And it is the totality of that that is what this war is about and being made up of. And I don't -- I doubt that in a conflict of this type there's ever been the degree of free press coverage as you are witnessing in this instance.


 Mr. Secretary, it's obvious from the beginning of this major air campaign and from what you all have said that there has been no general agreement by the Iraqi military leadership for a general surrender.

Rumsfeld: That's for sure.

Could I ask, sir, are there talks -- possibly direct talks going on between this building and the Iraqi senior military leadership toward that end?

Rumsfeld: In the way you've put it, the answer is no. If you're thinking -- is there country-to-country dialogue taking place, and the answer is no. If you're asking is there contact between coalition forces and Iraqi forces, the answer is most certainly. There has been over the past period of weeks, and those discussions have intensified. But they tend to be particularized to a specific unit in a specific location.

Well, in terms of any general surrender, they're not -- you wouldn't say that there were talks going on at high level --

Rumsfeld: I answered that. The answer's no.

Mr. Secretary, do you believe Saddam Hussein is currently in control of Iraq?

Rumsfeld: I don't know.

Do you have any indication that the leadership has changed hands?

Rumsfeld: I hear scraps of information, and if I -- you can be certain if I had sufficient number of scraps that it began to make a persuasive case, that I would opine on it.

Can you characterize the command-and-control structure that you believe is in place currently inside Baghdad?

Rumsfeld: Until there's good solid evidence that it doesn't exist, we have to assume that it is in place and functioning in one way or another. Our hope, our expectation is that they probably had multiple methods of communicating through their command-and-control system -- they had redundant systems. And so to the extent we are successful in eliminating some, our expectation is that even if it's simply couriers, they will have the ability to communicate.

I think it's a stretch to think it's possible to eliminate their ability to communicate up and down through their command system. Our hope and our prayer is not that we'll get 100 percent of their ability to communicate, but rather that we will be persuasive enough with the people who would have to implement the orders of the senior people in that regime, and persuade them that it is clearly not in their interest to obey those types of orders.

Can you help us to clarify here -- the type of people that you are in contact with represent what? Is it Republican Guard and regular army outside of Baghdad? Are you in touch with any of those inside, which is where his key levels of support are?

Rumsfeld: For the most part, it's outside.

Could you elaborate as much as you possibly can about the state of Saddam Hussein and the -- what you know so far about the success of the strike on the command headquarters?

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that the strike on that leadership headquarters was successful. We have photographs of what took place. The question is, what was in there? And until we gather sufficient information and intelligence and have more than one source that gives us conviction, we have to assume that the operation is proceeding.

Do you have one source that might have perhaps seen him coming out?

Rumsfeld: I don't want to get into that.

Mr. Secretary, if Saddam Hussein and his sons were listening to this briefing and they wanted to give up, what precisely should they do? And now that the air campaign over Baghdad has begun, is it in fact too late for them to choose to go into exile? Is their only choice to be captured, surrender to the United States or be killed? Is it too late for exile?

Rumsfeld: It is certainly too late for them to stay in power. What they do with themselves is up to them. And what the people around them do with them is up to the people around them. But, you know, it's -- I guess time will tell what kinds of judgments they'll make. So far they've made very poor judgments.

What precisely what do they need to do?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I don't need to give advice to that. They know precisely what to do.

You mentioned earlier the allusions to bombing campaigns in World War II and that they were an inappropriate historical analogy.

Rumsfeld: Those were dumb bombs and they were spread across large areas.

Can I finish my point?

Rumsfeld: These are very precise weapons.

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