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War winding down, but combat not over

By Wolf Blitzer
CNN


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan led the coalition ground forces into Iraq. By all accounts, he had a brilliant strategy that worked around several unexpected problems, including intense sandstorms and determined paramilitary fighters who remained loyal to Saddam Hussein until the very end.

Despite the speedy U.S.-led victory, he says it was a tough fight. He notes that so far, some 600 coalition troops were killed or injured. And he insists the fighting is not yet over.

During a briefing from Baghdad for Pentagon reporters in Washington, McKiernan says his ground forces are still involved in three categories of combat.

First, he says there are some places in Iraq where there are still pockets of resistance. Most recently, that was the case around Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

A second category: the Fedayeen Saddam paramilitaries, many of whom, he says, are not even Iraqis. They are Arabs and Muslims from elsewhere. "They've come in from other countries," he says, insisting many of them are still around and pose a serious threat to U.S. and other coalition forces.

Finally, he says there is the continuing threat from suicide bombers. Protecting U.S. troops from these killers, he says, remains a high priority, especially in Baghdad and other urban areas. Remember, many of those suicide vests that had either been made in Iraq or brought in from the outside remain unaccounted for.

One of McKiernan's commanders, Maj. Gen. William Wallace of the 5th Corps, had caused an international stir a week or so into the war by publicly noting that the military had not "war-gamed" for some of the contingencies that had developed -- namely the paramilitary forces. McKiernan acknowledged that the large numbers of paramilitary or death-squad fighters who emerged from the urban centers in southern Iraq did come as a bit of a surprise. It was "not the most likely enemy course of action that we war-gamed for," he says. But he says they adjusted the plan as the threat developed, and the adjustment clearly worked.

By the way, there were no apologies from McKiernan about the looting that took place in Baghdad, including at the museums. Could the U.S. military have prevented the looting? Here's how he put it: "I will tell you that our priority was to fight the enemy and to protect the Iraqi people."


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