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Rumsfeld: 'Brutal' battles may lie ahead in Iraq

Myers: Forces 'on the doorstep of Baghdad'

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the war in Iraq is
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the war in Iraq is "much closer to the beginning than the end."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The military campaign to topple the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is on target, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday, but he warned that the most "brutal" battles may lie ahead as coalition forces advance on Baghdad.

"This campaign could well 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 said. "But the outcome is assured."

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the forces as "on the doorstep of Baghdad."

"They'll have a lot more to be concerned about shortly," Myers said of Iraqi military leaders.

Rumfeld said there has been some intelligence "chatter" suggesting that Republican Guard units might deploy chemical weapons as coalition forces get closer to Baghdad.

"Whether it'll happen or not remains to be seen," he said.

The defense secretary described the war as "much closer to the beginning than the end," but he maintained the progress on the ground and in the air was substantial. He dismissed suggestions that the war was not unfolding as planned or that coalition forces were spread too thin on the ground.

The Pentagon's emphasis last week on the "shock and awe" air campaign -- heavy bombardment of Iraqi military targets -- was not meant to suggest that the Iraqi regime would immediately crumble, Rumsfeld and Myers.

Talking to reporters at a Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld and Myers appeared slightly exasperated by questions about what some analysts have had to say about the progress of the war, which is not yet a week old.

"I think the plan is ... is a brilliant plan and we've been at it now for less than a week," Myers said. "We're just about to Baghdad. Some of the biggest losses we have taken are due to Iraqi's committing serious violations of the law of arm conflict and the Geneva Conventions by dressing as civilians and luring us into surrender situations and opening fire on our troops. So this is a plan that is very well thought out and will play out as we expect."

Coalition forces, Myers said, have moved more than 200 miles into inside Iraq in less than five days of a ground campaign. Almost 1,000 sorties, he said, were flown Monday and about half of the air strikes in recent days have focused on pounding the Republican Guard.

More than 3,500 Iraqi prisoners of war are in custody, Rumsfeld said, adding that "thousands more" have simply disbanded and left their units.

"With each passing day, the Iraqi regime is losing control over more of the country," Rumsfeld said

Myers described ground forces as "near Baghdad" and "poised for the next objectives" of the military campaign.

Humanitarian aid, the men said, were being delivered and more was on its way. Rumsfeld said the number of refugees was relatively low, numbering in the hundreds as opposed to thousands. "There is not a humanitarian disaster at the present time in those areas," he said, referring to cities where coalition forces have passed through.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday that a humanitarian crisis could develop at Basra, which British troops are still trying to take from Iraqi opposition. Much of the population was without a regular water supply, the Red Cross said.

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