'Shock and awe' phase of Iraq war put on hold
Defense secretary says Saddam's days are numbered
From Jamie McIntyre
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. is holding off on its plan to deliver a punishing aerial bombardment of Baghdad while it assesses the state of Iraqi leadership, Pentagon officials told CNN Thursday.
The United States is waiting for evidence the Iraqi regime may be collapsing and that major defections could obviate the need for a full-scale attack.
"We have broad and deep evidence that suggests that there are people going through that decision-making process throughout that country today, and that is a good thing," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing.
But the officials say the so-called "shock and awe" phase of the U.S. war plan could be ordered at any time, including as soon as Thursday night, if turns out Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is alive and in control of his military.
Pentagon officials say the war plan was being "adapted" to take into account indications that Iraqi's military might be in disarray, and not receiving orders from any one central commander.
Rumsfeld alluded to the new strategy at the Pentagon briefing: "A war plan is something that is a plan that's developed before things start, and the minute things start one has to take account of the realities that you find in the world. That is what was done last evening. That is what will be done today and tomorrow and the next day."
Pentagon officials said the "full scale" assault on Baghdad would likely be launched unless someone other than Saddam declares they are in control and invited the U.S. military to enter Iraq peacefully.
Meanwhile, strikes today in Baghdad and in other parts of Iraq were designed to continue the psychological pressure on Saddam and his inner circle.
Rumsfeld urged Iraqi leaders to ask themselves whether "they want to survive," saying they would face an unprecedented military assault from the United States and coalition forces if they do not surrender.
"What will follow will not be a repeat of any other conflict," Rumsfeld told reporters. "It will be of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before.
"The Iraqi soldiers and officers must ask themselves whether they want to die fighting for a doomed regime or do they want to survive, help the Iraqi people in the liberation of their country and play a role in a new free Iraq."
The U.S. forces have launched a barrage of cruise missiles on targets in and around Baghdad for two consecutive days, with the first strikes aimed at a leadership compound where it is believed Saddam and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, may have been.
Officials said they believe Saddam escaped the attack, but some of his "senior leadership" might have been killed, perhaps as they slept.
U.S. officials said the residential compound was occupied by "very, very senior Republican Guard leaders, intelligence leaders and senior Ba'ath party leaders." One official told CNN the Iraqi officials at the compound had "turned in for the night" when the U.S. strike took place.
Echoing comments made by President Bush Wednesday night, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, underscored the danger U.S. armed forces face.
"We do not regard combat as an easy task," he said. "Warfare is dangerous. We will have casualties."
National Security Correspondent David Ensor contributed to this report.