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Iraq: Top Officials Warn War Will Be Tough, Take Time

Prague, 28 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Two top coalition military and political leaders warned today that the campaign to remove Saddam Hussein will be tough and will take some time.

The comments came in two separate interviews with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Lieutenant General William Wallace, the U.S. Army's senior ground commander in Iraq.

They come as the war enters its ninth day with some of the heaviest bombing yet of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and a battle at Najaf, south of the capital.

Blair told the BBC that much has been achieved so far in the war. But he said the war will have "tough and difficult moments" and that it will take time to pry the Iraqi leader's grip off the country.

Wallace told "The Washington Post" that stiff Iraqi resistance and stretched supply lines to coalition troops have stalled the U.S.-led drive toward Baghdad and made a longer war more likely.

Wallace also said the Iraqi irregulars fighting guerrilla-style tactics are not what the U.S. had expected He said, "the enemy we're fighting is different" from the one that U.S. troops had practiced war games against.

Yesterday, Pentagon officials said 100,000 more troops have been ordered to the Persian Gulf to arrive in the coming weeks. And U.S. President George W. Bush said that the war will last for "however long it takes" to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"We are now engaging the dictator's most hardened and most desperate units. The campaign ahead will require further courage and require further sacrifice, yet we know the outcome: Iraq will be disarmed, the Iraqi regime will be ended, and the long-suffering Iraqi people will be free," Bush said.

Iraqi officials were defiant. Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad said Baghdad could be surrounded within days. But he told reporters yesterday that the capital will not be taken. "God willing, Baghdad will be impregnable," he said. "We will fight to the end and everywhere."

And Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf said today his country will not be cowed. He also denied accusations by Blair that Iraq executed two British soldiers. "I believe [this was claimed by Blair] so that attention would turn towards us, and to start a psychological war to convince people that we executed them when we didn't execute anybody. They died either on the battlefield, or some because they are cowards, and the rest we will keep as prisoners," al-Sahhaf said.

A large battle was reported overnight near Najaf. To the north, U.S. forces are said to be braced for a battle near Karbala where Iraqi troops have been taking up positions.

In Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, Kurdish fighters claimed today to have advanced toward the oil city of Kirkuk. Two agencies report Kurdish rebels as saying Iraqi government forces appear to have retreated back toward the city,

The moves follows the arrival in the north yesterday of 1,000 U.S. paratroopers to support what the U.S. said will be a "robust follow-up" of troops. Reports say troops, tanks, and equipment have been airlifted into the region.

In Basra in the south, a British military spokesman is reported as saying local Iraqi militia opened fire on some 1,000 civilians trying to flee the city. Captain Robert Sandford said no one appears to have died in the morning attack.

British forces have destroyed tanks and military vehicles attempting to leave the city in recent days.

Later today, the UN Security Council is expected to renew the oil-for-food program for Iraq. Nearly two-thirds of Iraqis were dependent on the program before it was suspended nine days ago on the eve of the war