- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

President Bush, seeking to stanch concerns that the war in Iraq is proving tougher than expected after its first week, said Thursday that the United States and Britain will battle Saddam Hussein's forces "however long it takes to win."

"It isn't a matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory," the president told reporters at Camp David, Md., with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at his side. "The Iraqi people have got to know that. They've got to know that they will be liberated and Saddam Hussein will be removed, no matter how long it takes."

The president spoke as the war entered its second week Thursday and the two allies pushed forward on a number of fronts after being stalled by sandstorms and what military officials called a series of minor setbacks.

At the United Nations Thursday, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte walked out of a meeting after the Iraqi representative accused the United States of being "war criminals." Outside, Negroponte rejected earlier suggestions by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and some other religious leaders for a "humanitarian pause" in fighting to allow food to be delivered.

Negroponte said that those conditions will be created "as the allies move forward."

Bush and Blair in Washington also criticize countries that were opposed to resuming the Iraqi oil-for-food program.

"This urgent humanitarian issue must not be politicized, and the Security Council should give Secretary-General (Kofi) Annan the authority to start getting food supplies to those most in need of assistance," said Bush.

U.S. officials are concerned nations on the Security Council opposed to the U.S.-British invasion will block U.N. aid to the Iraqi people. Russia, France and China, all permanent members of the Security Council, were staunchly opposed to the war, wanting instead to continue weapons inspections. Germany, which also sits on the council but is not a permanent member, was also against the U.S.-led attack.

Overnight, about 1,000 U.S. Army paratroopers landed in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq to open a second front in the war. A military official said the newly inserted paratroopers join several hundred special operations forces already operating there. Initial plans for a northern front were thwarted when Turkey refused to allow passage to U.S. troops.

In Qatar, military headquarters for the invasion, a spokesman said that a bomb that landed in a Baghdad market and killed 14 people Tuesday may have been launched by the Iraqis, either deliberately or because of a misfire. Iraq has blamed the allies for the attack, which has received wide publicity on television in the Middle East.

In central Iraq, United Press International's Richard Tomkins reported, an Iraqi armored unit and infantry troops were pummeled with airstrikes and artillery fire Thursday after falling for a trap that lured the Iraqis into vacated U.S. positions.

The armored unit, including Soviet-made tanks, was approaching the vacated positions across the open desert when two Navy F-14 aircraft swooped down from a bright, clear sky — the first after three days of vicious dust storms — and released laser-guided missiles and bombs.

"It was a feint and they fell for it," Gunnery Sgt. Ron Jenks of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, told UPI.

Cobra helicopter gunships then buzzed in lower, firing Gatling guns and rocket launchers. Plumes of smoke could be seen in the distance from the burning hulks.

Troops of 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, meanwhile, were attacking a regional airport about two hours away by slow-moving armored troop carrier. Two Marines were killed by small arms fire. Word on Iraqi casualties was not immediately available.

Protests against the war continued. In New York, hundreds crowded Fifth Avenue near Rockefeller Center, blocking traffic for less than an hour Thursday morning and resulting in more than 100 arrests.

The demonstrators, who lay in the street to portray Iraqi war victims, were led away in plastic handcuffs by police. Some had to be carried by police. Protesters on the sidelines carried signs and chanted, "Bush's war has got to go."

Several hundred thousand Algerians from around the country converged on the capital Algiers on Thursday to protest the U.S.-British war in Iraq and demand an immediate halt to hostilities.

Overall support for the war in the United States continued strong, with more than 70 percent of Americans approving it. But the number who expect a relatively quick campaign has dropped in the past few days to below 40 percent, with some critics saying that the administration had downplayed the potential costs in dollars, time and lives.

Florida Sen. Bob Graham, a Democratic presidential aspirant and former head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Miami Herald "the political side of this administration gave a strong sell on the softest scenario, of 'flowers on the tanks,'" meaning the military would crumble and civilians would welcome U.S. forces.

Graham said military and CIA officials "were appropriately cautious in developing war plans for several scenarios — they did not mislead us about the potential for stiff resistance." But he said the rest of the administration was not so forthcoming: "There was not very much willingness to talk about the scenario that seems to be coming to pass — resistance leading to a longer war and, unfortunately, potentially greater U.S. casualties."

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told a Senate panel the war in Iraq, while expensive, will be worth the money because it will deter terror. The Bush administration has asked for more than $74 billion to fund the initial military action in Iraq and provide additional money for the fight against terrorism in the United States.

Rumsfeld and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee that the requested money should be approved immediately. Rumsfeld even noted its substantial size in making the request.

"(It is a) great deal of money," he said, but added the cost would be worth it, as it would prevent future terrorist attacks.

"Whatever it ends up costing, it will be small compared to the cost in lives and treasure of another attack like we experienced on Sept. 11," he said, referring to the 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington that killed about 3,000 people.

Bush and Blair Thursday also bluntly said perils lay ahead and pointed to the brutality of Saddam's regime.

"We're now engaging the dictator's most hardened and most desperate units," Bush said. "The campaign ahead will demand further courage and require further sacrifice."

Blair concurred. "Day by day, we have seen the reality of Saddam's regime — his thugs prepared to kill their own people; the parading of prisoners of war; and now, the release of those pictures of executed British soldiers. If anyone needed any further evidence of the depravity of Saddam's regime, this atrocity proves it."

Iraqi television previously had shown the bodies of several captured U.S. soldiers who the Pentagon now believes were executed, but Blair's comment was the first official claim that British troops had been executed. Blair didn't elaborate on the basis for his statement.

The U.S.-led coalition continued its bombing campaign of Baghdad Thursday, while aid delivery to the strategic port of Umm Qasr was delayed due to the discovery of suspected mines. Fighting continued in the southern city of Basra where U.K. forces took Iraqi state radio and television off the air.

In Baghdad, two missiles hit near the city center, al-Jazeera television reported.

In a news briefing, Iraqi Health Minister Umid Midhat Mubarak said Thursday 36 people were killed in coalition attacks on targets, including a hospital and two ambulances. He accused coalition forces of using "cluster bombs" against civilians in Basra and Baghdad.

In Basra, British troops took Iraqi state radio and television off the air, effectively isolating Iraq's second-largest city from communications with Baghdad, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported. A British military official said an Iraqi convoy near the town had been repelled.

"A column of Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles left Basra heading southwest toward U.K. forces," Brian Burridge, British national commander, said Thursday in a news briefing in Doha, Qatar. "Having established that these forces were not trying to surrender, U.K. forces took swift and decisive action against this threat, destroying a number through a mixture of artillery and air power."

He also suggested some of the Iraqi troops may have been coerced into fighting.

"We have come up against some stiff opposition from a mixture of regime paramilitaries and a remnant of the Iraqi army's 51st paramilitary division who we believe have been coerced by the regime to reoccupy their equipment," Burridge said.

U.S. officials Wednesday said the discovery of chemical suits hidden in a hospital near An Nasiriyah, which was being used as a base by 170 of the irregulars, was a clear sign that Iraqi forces were preparing to use nerve agents or other chemical weapons against the U.S.-led coalition.

Also Thursday, over some U.S. objections, leaders of an Iraqi opposition exile council in northern Iraq announced they would form a provisional government for the Iraqi people upon Saddam's fall.

"Upon the liberation of Iraq, the Leadership Council will declare the formation of an independent provisional government that will be a coalition to run the affairs of the country, to uphold the dignity of the people, the unity and national sovereignty and independence of the country," a statement from the opposition front said Thursday.

The council represents Iraq's Kurds and Shiites, but currently a chair on the five-person panel reserved for Sunni Arabs, the ethnic group that comprises the majority of the ruling Baath party's leadership, is vacant

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(With reporting by Pamela Hess from the Pentagon, Richard Tomkins with the 5th Marine Regimental Combat Team, Gassan al-Khadi in Baghdad, Kathy Gambrell at the White House, Seva Ulman in Ankara, Turkey, Martin Walker in Kuwait City, Hussein Hindawi in London, Eli J. Lake at the State Department and William M. Reilly at the United Nations.)

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