- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants are "starting to lose control of their country," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday, and the United States pushed 100 miles into Iraq.

Rumsfeld spoke at the Pentagon shortly after the U.S. launched a long-awaited massive campaign against Iraq from the air, illuminating the nighttime skies of Baghdad. Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said "several hundred military targets will be hit over the coming hours."

Enormous explosions were visible around Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, even as American officials continued surrender talks with senior Iraqi officials. The air campaign, which until Friday had been limited to selective strikes, escalated dramatically as U.S. ground forces rolled toward Baghdad.

Pentagon officials have dubbed the aerial strategy "shock and awe" to reflect the goal of paralyzing the Iraqi military and compelling Saddam's regime to capitulate before U.S. and allied forces reached the gates of Baghdad.

Rumsfeld was asked if the bombing indicated no agreement had been reached with the Iraqi military on surrendering. "That's for sure," he said.

"The regime is starting to lose control of their country," Rumsfeld said. "The confusion of Iraqi officials is growing. Their ability to see what is happening on the battlefield … and the control of their country is slipping away."

Asked about Iraqi defections, Rumsfeld said, "Just off the top of my head, I can think of a few hundred."

Myers said there was "no evidence to date" that the Iraqi military would attempt to blow up dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to flood vast sections of southern Iraq in hopes of slowing the U.S.-British advance.

In any event, "We have taken some actions to mitigate that," he said, declining to elaborate.

Myers said the Persian Gulf port city of Umm Qasr had been secured and southern Iraqi oil fields should be by day's end.

Meanwhile, Rumsfeld asserted that, despite the intensity and fury of the bombardment, great care was being taken to minimize civilian casualties. "The targeting capabilities and the care that goes into targeting to see that the precise targets are struck and that other targets are not struck is as impressive as anything anyone could see," he said.

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