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Iraq's Latest Actions Validate Status as 'Rogue' Nation, says Pentagon Official - 2003-03-23

Coalition forces are rushing towards Baghdad, ahead of schedule. But the fourth day of fighting has had moments that one senior Pentagon official describes as "damned depressing."

A senior Pentagon official says Iraq's latest actions validate why the Bush administration considers Saddam Hussein's government a rogue regime.

The official was referring specifically to Iraqi television images of what appeared to be several captured and dead Americans soldiers - the dead ones apparently shot execution-style.

But there were other pieces of evidence of what Pentagon personnel considered to be outrageous Iraqi behavior, including further pictures from Baghdad of an alleged hunt for a downed coalition airman in the Tigris River.

No planes or pilots were missing. But General John Abizaid of the U.S. Central Command commented on the use of automatic weapons by Iraqi authorities in the search. "No planes have been shot down. No pilots have parachuted. But I did note that the Iraqis were searching for what they thought to be a downed American pilot and you can see by their actions - shooting into the water - that their search and rescue techniques leave a lot to be desired," he said.

While that comment was greeted with laughter, other incidents, like the apparent mistreatment of prisoners, triggered anger and complicated the allied offensive.

There were reports of Iraqi troops using human shields to protect themselves against advancing coalition forces. And there was at least one instance of Iraqi troops raising the white flag of surrender to lure coalition soldiers into an ambush.

General Abizaid, speaking in Qatar, said he views such actions as signs of desperation. But like other senior defense officials, he insisted they will not affect the outcome.

"These moves are dangerous to the troops in the field but they are not dangerous to the success of the mission," General Abizaid said.

In fact, a senior Pentagon official tells VOA the incidents are likely to redouble U.S. resolve as forces press towards Baghdad to unseat Saddam Hussein's regime.

Still, Pentagon officials moved quickly Sunday to quash any speculation among reporters that signs of stiffening Iraqi resistance, coupled with coalition casualties and the taking of allied POWs, will have a demoralizing impact on the American public.

The senior Pentagon official said no one should be surprised by the resistance - or the human toll. He noted that ground fighting involves significant risk and pointed out that not since the 1991 Gulf War have U.S. military actions involved much ground combat. Even in the case of the Gulf War, the official recalled there was more than a month of aerial bombing before ground forces made their move.