The Washington Times

Saddam's Iraqi 'regime has ended'

April 12, 2003
Section: PAGE ONE

Page: A01

Rowan Scarborough and Bill Gertz, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Caption: Restoring order: Marines detained Iraqis suspected of firing weapons outside a Baghdad hospital. The capital may have fallen, but looting is widespread. [Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr./The Washington Times]

An Infantrywoman took a break on a luxurious bed in a Baghdad palace belonging to Uday Hussein.[Photo by Getty Images]; An Iraqi boy attempted to bring down a statue of the president near burning government buildings in Baghdad. [Photo by J.M. Eddins Jr./The Washington Times]

Iraqi wild cards: These photos show several of the 55 playing cards issued by the U.S. Department of Defense to help troops identify Iraqi government officials. Shown are cards depicting ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, sons Uday and Qusai, intelligence officer Tahir Jalil Habbush Al-Tikriti and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. [5 photos by Department of Defense]

The White House yesterday declared that Saddam Hussein's regime is finished in Iraq on the war's 24th day, as U.S. intelligence agencies are picking up reports that Saddam is dead.

"Indeed, the regime has ended," said presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer.

The United States is detecting what the intelligence trade calls "chatter" on communications lines that the ousted Iraqi dictator is dead.

But a U.S. intelligence official cautioned yesterday that the conversations are coming from "people at the periphery of the regime" and not from senior Ba'ath Party members who would be most likely to know Saddam's status.

The official said the "chatter" could be accurate or just speculation, or misinformation to make Saddam's pursuers think he is dead.

The United States has conducted at least two air strikes in Baghdad specifically targeting Saddam: one on the war's opening day, March 19, at a bunkered safe house called Dora Farms; and a second one Monday on a building in the Mansur neighborhood near a popular restaurant, al Saa.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe the March 19 strike most likely did not kill the Iraqi dictator because a videotaped message from Saddam refers to the downing of an Apache helicopter. An Apache was shot down March 24. Saddam also staged a videotaped street walk in the Mansur area that some officials believe is post-March 19.

Gen. Tommy Franks, the allied commander, said of Saddam, his sons Uday and Qusai, and other top Ba'ath Party leaders that "they're either dead or they're running like hell."

"That is the case with the leadership of the regime inside Iraq," he said.

Mr. Fleischer said that much fighting remains to weed out pockets of paramilitaries.

"It is still a battlefield," he said. "While the central command and control elements of the regime have been collapsed, there remain pockets of loyalists who continue to fight and present harm for our armed forces."The allies captured the capital, Baghdad, on Wednesday, and over the next two days took the key northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. It now has effective control over all population centers except Tikrit, Saddam's ancestral hometown 100 miles north of Baghdad.

While the U.S.-led coalition continued to rack up impressive battlefield gains, it also answered charges from the media and relief groups that it is not doing enough to stop looting and chaos in newly liberated Baghdad.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld bristled at the charges. His top officer, Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, read situation reports from commanders in the field who said living conditions were improving by the hour.

"Stuff happens," the defense secretary said, adding, "Freedom's untidy."

He added, "In every country, in my adult lifetime, that's had the wonderful opportunity to do that, to move from a repressed dictatorial regime to something that's freer, we've seen in that transition period there is untidiness.

"While no one condones looting - on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime."

Mr. Rumsfeld took a major daily newspaper to task for its negative war coverage.

He did not mention the newspaper by name, but his description of the front page matched how the New York Times, which opposed the war editorially, wrote and displayed stories from the war's 23rd day.

"I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn't believe it," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny Penny - 'The sky is falling.' I've never seen anything like it."

Tikrit is the allies' only remaining battlefield objective after Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, surrendered yesterday, a day after the north's other large city, Kirkuk, did the same.

An entire corps of regular Iraqi soldiers surrendered en masse. Some simply dropped their guns and went home.

Pentagon officials said no signs exist of centralized command and control over what's left of the Iraqi military.

They said the battle for Tikrit may boil down to the rooting out of Fedayeen Saddam diehards and non-Iraqi Arabs who entered from Jordan and Syria.

Tikrit is predominantly Sunni Muslim, as are the Ba'ath Party and its leader, suggesting there would be some form of last stand. It boasts one of the highest living standards in a country wrecked by economic devastation after the 1991 Persian Gulf war and the subsequent decade of sanctions.

It is not clear what ground forces will be committed to capture Tikrit. The 173rd Brigade recently received air-shipped M1-A1 tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. But Central Command said yesterday the unit is now engaged in securing northern oil fields.

In the meantime, heavy air strikes continued against military troops in and around Tikrit - a bombardment that may bring surrender on its own.

U.S. Central Command is shifting the campaign to concentrate more on hunting down Iraqi war leaders suspected of war crimes. The command yesterday issued a "deck of cards" - the faces and descriptions of 55 most-wanted Iraqis. The ace of spades: Saddam.

Gen. Myers summed up the war's current status this way: "As far as our engagement in Iraq is concerned, you've got to be reminded of Churchill's quote - I certainly am - 'This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it's perhaps the end of the beginning.'"

In Baghdad, the main challenge for Marines of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force is to find and kill remaining groups of Fedayeen and other civilian-dressed paramilitaries armed with AK-47s and rocket-launched grenades.

While the firefights have been intense, there does not seem to be great numbers of guerrillas in Baghdad, but rather a smattering of groups that number in the hundreds.

UPI reporter Richard Tomkins, who is embedded with the 5th Marines, reported the infantrymen have killed at least 70 of the fighters the past two days.

Many of the enemy are non-Iraqis: Syrians, Jordanians and Yemenis who fight around mosques, some of Saddam's many palaces, and hospitals.

"They fired over 100 rocket-propelled grenades and thousands of rounds of small-arms ammunition," said Col. Fred Padila, who commands the 1st Battalion. "It was very hairy."

The Marines lost one comrade in fighting Thursday, while more than 40 were wounded.