A senior U.S. military officer in the Gulf says the Iraqi leadership appears unable to control its forces and its population in most of the country.
Central Command Deputy Operations Director Brigadier General Vincent Brooks says, as the U.S.-led coalition advances toward Baghdad, it is apparent that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein has lost control of its fighting forces and most of the Iraqi population.
"The coalition attacks against the regime remain effective throughout the country, and there is increasing evidence that the regime cannot control its forces, or the Iraqi population in most of the country," said General Brooks.
The U.S. military is still uncertain about the fighting strength of Iraqi Republican Guard units stationed around Baghdad. Central Command says many of those units have been hit hard, and General Brooks says some Republican Guards have surrendered. Among them, he says, are more than 50 who gave up in the town of Kut, southeast of Baghdad. The general says a number of Guard units are on the move, but he says it is unclear whether they intend to fight or run.
General Brooks says that, as U.S. forces approach the Iraqi capital, they are preparing for increased fighting.
"We don't think the fighting is over yet," he said. "There are still options that are open to the regime, including weapons of mass destruction."
Some U.S. intelligence sources have been quoted as saying that the Republican Guard has drawn an imaginary red line around Baghdad, and would be prepared to use chemical weapons against U.S. troops, if they cross that line.
Referring to two U.S. aircraft that went down over the past 24 hours, General Brooks says the incidents are being investigated. He did not rule out the possibility that a U.S. Navy F/A 18 fighter had been shot down by a coalition Patriot air defense missile, saying there was missile activity in the area where the plane went down. And, he says, he does not think the crash of a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter near Karbala, in central Iraq, was the result of hostile fire.
General Brooks also showed video images of a U.S. special forces raid on a palace belonging to Saddam Hussein, about 90 kilometers north of Baghdad. He said the raiders found no members of the Iraqi leadership, but did seize important documents.