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Myers raises possibility of isolating Baghdad

Rumsfeld: 'No way out' for senior Iraqi leadership

By Sean Loughlin and Jamie McIntyre
CNN Washington Bureau

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warns of
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warns of "difficult days ahead" in the war in Iraq.

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Pentagon officials raised the possibility that coalition forces might try to isolate Baghdad and avoid urban warfare. CNN's Barbara Starr reports.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pentagon officials raised the possibility Thursday that coalition forces might try to isolate Baghdad and render the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "irrelevant," avoiding urban warfare within the city to topple the government.

Asked at a Pentagon briefing whether coalition forces were gearing up for an urban conflict within Baghdad, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested that might not be the case.

"The tactical situation could be very different from what we suppose," Myers said. "And so, I mean, you're just going to have to be ready for lots of things."

Other Pentagon officials said the U.S. strategy was not to occupy the entire city but to seize key objectives.

As for Saddam's regime, Myers went on to say that "you may have a regime; you may not."

That, he suggested, was not a pivotal point.

"I use the term irrelevant because at this point, they're not going to be able to communicate with the people of Iraq; that will all be shut down," Myers said. "They won't be able to communicate within certain parts of Baghdad."

He said coalition forces and some kind of new "Iraqi interim administration" could control things like water and electricity in the city, and oil fields to the south and north. Shiite Muslims in the city, described by the administration as persecuted by Saddam's regime, could be "helpful," Myers said.

"When you get to the point where Baghdad is basically isolated, then what is the situation you have in the country?" Myers said. "You have a country that Baghdad no longer controls; that whatever's happening inside Baghdad is almost irrelevant compared to what's going on in the rest of the country."

Myers and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did not say that this option would be executed, but they made it clear that it was on the table. (Briefing highlights)

Rumsfeld also rejected the idea of any nation brokering a deal with Saddam to end the war and asserted that "there's no way out" for the senior leadership of the regime.

"It is now 14 days since coalition forces entered Iraq, and they are closing on Baghdad," Rumsfeld said. "They have taken several outlying areas and are closer to the center of the Iraqi capital than many American commuters are from their downtown offices."

Myers said Saddam's regime no longer controls about 45 percent of the country.

Turning to an issue he first raised last week, Rumsfeld said, in response to a question, that Syria was "continuing" to move supplies to Iraq. Asked what action the United States might take, Rumsfeld responded, "That's for others to decide."

The defense secretary said coalition forces were making steady progress, but warned of "difficult days ahead" and said the possibility remains that Iraqi forces would use chemical weapons.

Damage to Saddam's vaunted Republican Guard units has been so significant, Rumsfeld said, that Iraq' military leaders have been "forced to backfill" the defense of Baghdad with regular army units, "which is a sign that they know they're in difficulty."

Rumsfeld also said that Saddam's regime was "running out of real soldiers" and was increasingly relying on fighters and death squads who posed as civilians and used civilians as shields. Such fighters, he said, would be treated as war criminals.

Rumsfeld encouraged Iraqi armed forces to surrender and help rebuild the country. Helping to rebuild Iraq and form a new government, Rumsfeld said, was not an option for top members of Saddam's regime.

Seeking to blunt the Iraqi government's appeal for a jihad against coalition forces, Rumsfeld said that Saddam had proven himself to be an enemy of Muslim people. He said Saddam had terrorized Shiite Muslims in his own country.

"Saddam Hussein has killed more Muslim people than perhaps any living person on the face of the Earth," Rumsfeld said.

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