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US Officials: Iraq War is Going Well - 2003-03-23

Senior U.S. defense officials say the war in Iraq is going well and the drive by coalition forces on Baghdad is ahead of schedule. But the upbeat assessment is being tempered by word several American soldiers have apparently been captured.

Arabic television broadcasts have shown images of what appear to be dead and captured U.S. soldiers. One senior Pentagon official says he believes the dead Americans may have been executed, while other defense officials admit several soldiers missing in southern Iraq could be prisoners.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says if Americans are being held as prisoners of war or POW's, then his message to their captors is that they should be treated in accordance with international law, like the more than 2,000 Iraqis held by coalition troops. He also suggests the captors lay down their weapons and surrender.

"That they treat those prisoners according to the Geneva Convention just as we treat Iraqi prisoners according to the Geneva Convention," he said, "and further I would say that they would be well advised to put down their arms, follow the instructions that have been communicated and act with honor and help liberate the Iraqi people from the vicious, repressive regime of Saddam Hussein."

Mr. Rumsfeld was appearing in a televised interview on CNN in which he gave an otherwise upbeat assessment of the progress of the high-speed allied advance on Baghdad.

But he says it is too early to predict just how much more time it will take to achieve all the coalition's objectives. "There are any number of things that could happen that would cause difficulty, that could delay things, but there is nothing that can happen that will change the ultimate outcome, the outcome is certain and the armed forces of the Iraqi government should put down their arms...and end any resistance at all," he said.

One of the main unknowns in the war is whether Iraqi troops might use chemical or biological weapons. So far, Mr. Rumsfeld says none have been discovered by coalition troops.

But he says intelligence reports indicate chemical and biological weapons have been distributed to some Iraqi units and selected Iraqi commanders have been given permission to use them if they choose. Mr. Rumsfeld again urges them not to, promising they will be hunted down as war criminals if they do.

Mr. Rumsfeld says the Iraqi leadership appears to be in some disarray, but he says uncertainties about the fate of Saddam Hussein require coalition commanders to assume he is still alive.