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Official: Coalition in Baghdad 'before you know it'

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- A top U.S. Marine official late Wednesday predicted coalition forces would be in Baghdad "before you know it" and that time is running out for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"He's certainly feeling the noose being tightened around him," said Col. Tom Bright, the Marine Corps chief at the U.S. Central Command's joint operations center in Qatar.

Bright would not specify when the troops would be there. But he said one of his colleagues gave a cigar to the commander of a tank battalion and told him to smoke it when he gets to Baghdad.

"My guess is he's probably going to get that opportunity here pretty quick," Bright said on CNN's "Larry King Live."

Hours earlier, commanders with the U.S. Army's V Corps told CNN's Karl Penhaul that American troops could be on Baghdad's southern outskirts by early Thursday. But top officials downplayed expectations that a drive into the city is imminent and warned that some of the fiercest fighting lies ahead. Penhaul is embedded with the Army's V Corps, 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment.

It was early Thursday Baghdad time when Bright spoke with Larry King. "We are close to Baghdad, and before you know it, we're going to be there."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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