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American Prisoners of War Held in Iraq, al-Jazeera Reports - 2003-03-23

The Arabic television network Al-Jazeera has broadcast footage of what it said were American prisoners of war held by Iraq. This latest development in the war comes as U.S.-led forces close to within 160 kilometers of Baghdad.

Al-Jazeera broadcast interviews with what were described as American prisoners of war. The prisoners spoke in English with an American accent. The Arab satellite news network also showed footage of what it said were bodies clad in U.S. uniforms in a morgue.

Some of the footage was shown on the CBS program Face the Nation during an interview with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Secretary Rumsfeld said some American soldiers are missing in Iraq and he warned Iraqi officials not to try and exploit the capture of any coalition troops. "The Geneva Convention indicates that it is not permitted to photograph and embarrass or humiliate prisoners of war. And if they do happen to be American or coalition ground forces that have been captured, the Geneva Convention indicates how they should be treated," he said.

As far as the fighting itself, U.S. and British forces have traveled two-thirds of the distance from Kuwait to Baghdad and are now within 160 kilometers of the Iraqi capital. The most dramatic advance has been by the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which has pushed up the Euphrates River valley toward Baghdad.

That advance has been slowed a bit, however, by reports of fighting in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Najaf and the Euphrates River town of Nassiriya.

In addition, coalition forces are finding some pockets of resistance in southern Iraq, especially guerilla-style attacks from Iraqi soldiers at the port of Umm Qasr.

U.S. military officials insist the Iraq campaign is on schedule, despite the pockets of resistance. General Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Fox television, "I think there are some who are overly optimistic. I think what they have seen so far in the amount of mileage we have driven inside Iraq has been quite amazing, frankly. But we think we are on our plan and on our timeline. Again, it is no prediction of the future. This is going to get a lot harder. Anybody who thinks this is going to be quick and easy is wrong. I do not think it has been quick and easy to date."

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says U.S.-led forces are preparing for the possibility that they will face stiffer resistance from Iraqi Republican Guard units as they get closer to Baghdad.

"There is a possibility that as the coalition forces move from the south, and from the north, and from the west that the degree of resistance could increase for a period. On the other hand, the outcome is clear. There is no question but that that regime is through, that in fact it is over," Mr. Rumsfeld said, speaking on NBC's Today Program.

U.S. officials denied Iraqi claims that two coalition pilots were forced to eject from their planes over Baghdad. General Myers said all coalition aircraft have been accounted for.

The overall success of the military push toward Baghdad has been tempered by two other incidents. British officials confirmed that one of their planes was mistakenly shot down by a U.S. Patriot missile near the Iraq-Kuwait border.

Also in Kuwait, a U.S. soldier is suspected of carrying out a grenade attack on his comrades that left one American dead and more than a dozen wounded. U.S. military officials are investigating the cause of that incident.