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US to focus military action on northern Iraq

Despite the heavy US military presence in Baghdad, pockets of the capital and a large swath of north-central Iraq remain outside coalition forces' control.

india Updated: Apr 10, 2003 14:41 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press

Despite the heavy US military presence in Baghdad, pockets of the capital and a large swath of north-central Iraq remain outside coalition forces' control.

Pentagon officials say American forces will focus their attacks on those regions in the days ahead, including Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, about 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of the capital. Coalition air forces concentrated much of their firepower on Tikrit on Wednesday, though the only ground forces in the area were special operations troops.

The United States also is worried that Iraqis have wired explosives to wells and other facilities in oilfields in northern Iraq, ready to cause an environmental disaster.

Ten or more Iraqi army divisions - as many as 80,000 troops - were in the area between the capital and the Kurdish-controlled areas of far northern Iraq, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said Wednesday. Other military officials said some surviving Iraqi units had converged on Tikrit, home to Saddam's relatives and presumably his most die-hard supporters. Whether those Iraqis were willing or able to put up much of a fight was unclear, however.

Pentagon officials say Iraqi military lines of communication were severed and they saw no evidence Iraqi forces were getting any direction from above or working in any coordinated manner. Earlier this week, Myers said all but a few dozen Iraqi Republican Guard tanks had been abandoned or destroyed. US forces fought at least two fierce battles in Baghdad on Wednesday and Thursday, including one on the campus of the University of Baghdad and a three-hour fire fight at one of Saddam's palaces. There was also some fighting near a mosque. However, most resistance in the Iraqi capital was scattered and relatively minor, military officials said.

Still, defence officials warned that the war was not over. "There's a lot more fighting that's going to be done," Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. "There are more people are going to be killed, let there be no doubt. This is not over, despite all the celebrations on the street." Coalition forces also must capture "or otherwise deal with" Saddam and his sons Qusay and Odai, Rumsfeld said.

American special operations forces on Wednesday scoured the site in a Baghdad neighbourhood where four tons of US bombs obliterated a building where Saddam was believed to be staying. The team was looking for remains and other evidence, such as Saddam's personal effects, that would indicate the Iraqi president was inside the building when the bombs hit on Monday. Rumsfeld said he didn't know whether Saddam and his sons escaped the bombing, and he made no promises about finding the Iraqi leader.

"It is hard to find a single person," he said, adding later, "He's either dead or he's incapacitated or he's healthy and cowering in some tunnel someplace trying to avoid being caught." Rumsfeld and Myers attempted to strike a balance between celebration and caution, declaring the Iraqi president's rule all but dead but also emphasizing that much remained to be done before US troops could go home.

First Published: Apr 10, 2003 14:04 IST