U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says coalition forces in Iraq will need to destroy or capture Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard units in order to defeat the regime.
Secretary Rumsfeld said Republican Guard units, thought to be Saddam Hussein's best trained and most loyal forces, are ringing Baghdad about 80 kilometers from the Iraqi capital.
Mr. Rumsfeld said when coalition forces attack the city, the encounter with the Republican Guard will be "some of the toughest fighting that will occur."
"One has to recognize that the regular forces have been more inclined not to defend the regime to the end and the Republican Guard have been more inclined to defend the regime, although that is not 100 percent," he said. "Therefore, I think it is only reasonable to expect that it will require the coalition forces moving through some Republican Guard units and destroying them or capturing them before you will see the crumbling of the regime."
The secretary of defense did not say when he expects the major battle to occur although coalition troops and tanks are massing just south of Baghdad.
The Republican Guard's Medina unit is closest to U.S. soldiers and has been blasted over the past few days by coalition warplanes.
There are an estimated 80,000 Republican Guard forces in six divisions near Baghdad and Saddam Hussein's stronghold of Tikrit.
Mr. Rumsfeld said Iraqis are still too intimidated by Saddam Hussein's government to publicly support coalition efforts to defeat the regime.
He went on to say that Iraqi paramilitary forces, known as the Fedayeen, are threatening to kill people who do not obey.
"In fact what they are is death squads, enforcers and what they do, there is probably somewhere between 5,000 and 20,000 of them in the country," he explained. "They go into the cities and shoot people and threaten people and insist that they not surrender and not rise up."
Earlier, Secretary Rumsfeld insisted there will be no cease-fire in the war to oust Saddam Hussein and disarm his government.