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Britain says Iraq war could wrap in weeks

The US-led invasion of Iraq is 'going well', but it might be weeks before the guns fall silent, a junior British defence minister said on Monday.

world Updated: Mar 24, 2003 15:32 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

The US-led invasion of Iraq is "going well," but it might be weeks before the guns fall silent, a junior British defence minister said on Monday as the war entered its fifth day.

Speaking on BBC radio, Lewis Mooney added that a hunt was under way in southern Iraq for the first two British soldiers to be reported missing, somewhere in southern Iraq.

Prime Minister Tony Blair was later Monday to make his first statement to the House of Commons since the war began, preceded by a press briefing by Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.

"The spearhead is going well," Mooney, who is under secretary of state for defence and minister for veterans, told the Today programme, just as Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was speaking live on Baghdad television.

"The overall attack on the head of the Iraqi regime, whatever brave face they may try to put on television, has also gone well," Mooney said.

"We've managed to effectively ruin the central command and control structure without any major substantive damage to the rest of Baghdad," he added.

"The main objectives are in place. It's now a matter of careful consolidation."

Asked if the fighting might be over in "weeks, rather than months," Mooney replied: "I would certainly hope so."

"I don't expect it to drag on indefinitely. Obviously, the taking of Baghdad is the big imponderable in this whole campaign. Once the city is invested, we'll have to see what happens."

The ministry of defence and British military officials in the Gulf region confirmed earlier that two British soldiers went missing Sunday when the convoy in which they were travelling came under fire in southern Iraq.

"Efforts are being made to find and recover the two soldiers. Further information will be given when available," a ministry spokesman said.

Since the war began, Britain has suffered 16 known deaths -- 14 in helicopter accidents and two RAF aircrew whose Tornado bomber was shot down by a US missile.
Mooney said: "The rule of our forces always was to smash forward towards Bagdad as quickly as possible. We want to remove this regime with the minimum disruption to the country and people of Iraq."

"Spearhead forward as fast as you can and then you come along behind and you invest cities that have been left behind and you take them at your leisure."

First Published: Mar 24, 2003 15:32 IST