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Pentagon Still Concerned about Possible Iraqi Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction - 2003-04-04

Top defense officials at the Pentagon say they are still concerned that Iraqi troops may use weapons of mass destruction, even though coalition soldiers have seized Baghdad's international airport and are a short distance from the capital.

Pentagon officials are calling the capture of Baghdad airport "hugely symbolic" as coalition forces continue their approach to the heart of the Iraqi capital.

Major General Stanley McChrystal says the airport will not be used immediately for air operations, but says the facility is an excellent staging area for a ground attack on Baghdad.

Despite the close proximity of coalition forces and Baghdad's population of five million people, General McChrystal says there is still concern about the Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction.

"Logically, now that we are at Baghdad airport they wouldn't use chemical and biological weapons because we are right amongst their population," said Stanley McChrystal. "But they have not fought logically from the beginning, so we in no way discount the possibility that they will."

Pentagon officials say there is still sporadic fighting around the airport and soldiers are searching buildings and underground facilities to eliminate resistance.

They say coalition forces are focusing on Iraqi leadership sites nearby.

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke says the "fear and the terror" are starting to evaporate in Iraq and many people are now cheering the arrival of coalition forces.

Ms. Clarke brushed aside reports and appearances on Iraqi television that may indicate Saddam Hussein is still alive, saying they are not significant.

"What really matters is not whether or not he is dead or alive, but the fact that whoever is left in this regime, whatever is left of the regime leadership, got up today and realized they have less and less control over their country," said Ms. Clarke. "They have less and less control of just about everything in that country and that is what is significant and what we are focused on is ending the regime."

While it is clear coalition forces have not completely shut down the Iraqi government's ability to broadcast on television, officials here say attacks will continue in an effort to shutdown the transmission network.