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US: Coalition Forces Make Solid Progress but New Issues Raise Concern - 2003-03-28


Senior U.S. defense officials say coalition forces fighting in Iraq are making solid progress. But there are new issues of concern one week into Operation Iraqi Freedom, including what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said is hostile activity affecting Iraq coming from Syria and Iran.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has issued a stern warning to Syria, demanding a halt to further shipments of military equipment from Syria into Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld stopped short of threatening Syria with military reprisals. But he tells reporters at the Pentagon the shipments constitute hostile activity.

"These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces. We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Syria has dismissed the charge. But Mr. Rumsfeld said the shipments have included such equipment as night vision goggles. He provides no other details.

The U.S. defense secretary said another new problem is the entry into Iraq of hundreds of Iranian-backed Iraqi rebels. He called their presence unhelpful and said Iran will be held responsible for their actions.

Despite this, Mr. Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, Chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said coalition forces are making progress, noting progress in the north and west of Iraq as well as the big coalition armored push from the south now approaching Baghdad.

Pointing to a slide projection of a map of Iraq, General Myers said the government of Saddam Hussein is rapidly losing control over a growing amount of the country. "The slide on the screen shows the now approximately 35-to-40 percent of Iraq, Iraqi territory where Saddam's regime has lost control," he said.

Both General Myers and Secretary Rumsfeld reject suggestions the allied offensive has slowed because of unexpectedly strong resistance.

Both men insist the outcome of the war is certain. But Mr. Rumsfeld suggests unrealistic news reporting is responsible for exaggerated expectations of a quick victory. "We have seen mood swings in the media from highs to lows to highs and back again, sometimes in a single 24 hour period," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Much of the resistance witnessed by coalition forces has been attributed to Saddam Fedayeen paramilitary units, described by Mr. Rumsfeld as "death squads." Pentagon officials have accused them of various atrocities.

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