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Pentagon Continues to Assess Initial US Strike - 2003-03-20

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the United States attacked a senior Iraqi leadership position in its initial military strikes, but is still assessing the damage caused by the bombing. Mr. Rumsfeld also says Iraq may have begun setting oil wells on fire.

Secretary Rumsfeld says the first strikes by Tomahawk missiles and stealth fighter jets hit a compound in Baghdad after what he described as very good intelligence information indicated high-ranking Iraqi government officials were inside.

"Coalition forces hit a senior Iraqi leadership compound last evening," he said. "The damage assessment on the compound is pending. That was the first. It will likely not be the last."

Mr. Rumsfeld did not say if any Iraqi officials were killed in the strike. He said, however, "there is debate" about whether an Iraqi television broadcast after the attack showed Saddam Hussein survived.

It is not clear if President Saddam's televised remarks were taped earlier or whether the speaker was the Iraqi leader or a double.

Mr. Rumsfeld also says the Iraqi regime may have set fire to as many as three or four oil wells in the southern part of the country.

Pentagon officials have long expressed concern that Saddam Hussein may order a scorched earth policy and torch the country's oil fields.

Mr. Rumsfeld says the days of the Saddam Hussein regime are numbered.

He says the hundreds of thousands of coalition soldiers in the Persian Gulf region are prepared to launch a massive assault on Iraq.

'What will follow will not be a repeat of any other conflict," the defense secretary said. "It will be of a force and scope and scale that is beyond what has been seen before. The Iraqi soldiers and officers must ask themselves whether they want to die fighting for a doomed regime. Or do they want to survive, help the Iraqi people in the liberation of their country and play a role in a new, free Iraq."

Secretary Rumsfeld says Iraqis should stay home when the invasion begins.

He repeated warnings that any Iraqi soldiers using biological or chemical weapons will be prosecuted for war crimes.