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Coalition Forces Closing in Baghdad, Fierce Fighting Expected - 2003-04-02

U.S.-led coalition forces are continuing to advance on Baghdad and are now within 50 kilometers of the Iraqi capital. Major General Stanley McChrystal says coalition troops are moving toward Baghdad and two Republican Guard units, the Medina and Baghdad divisions, "are no longer credible forces."

"To sum it up, what it means is when a unit no longer acts as a coherent element on the battlefield, i.e. a Republican Guard division cannot maneuver as a division, cannot defend effectively, is not effectively able to counter-attack, that is what we are seeing with a couple of these divisions," he said. "Clearly there are pockets of resistance, still capable within that organization and the contact we've seen earlier today has been described as sporadic, but not able to stop coalition maneuvers."

General McChrystal stressed repeatedly that the most difficult fighting may be coming soon and says there are significant concerns that Saddam Hussein's military could use weapons of mass destruction.

"In regard to that, we are paying great attention to their ability to defend on the ground. They may just suddenly be effective on the ground," said General McChrystal. "Additionally, their ability to use chemical and biological weapons, they have proven it historically. We believe they have the capability now. Clearly as we threaten the core of the regime, which Baghdad and Tikrit represent, we believe that the likelihood of them using those weapons goes up and so the posture of our force is prepared for that."

Allied air strikes have been pounding the Republican Guard divisions.

General McChrystal says 700 cruise missiles and 10,000 precision guided bombs have been dropped since the start of the war.

U.S. troops are closing in on the Iraqi capital from two sides, Army forces from the southwest and Marines from the southeast, in what could become the fiercest combat of the war.

The Pentagon is still hoping that Saddam Hussein's regime will collapse, before coalition troops are drawn into bloody urban warfare.