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Iraq: Rumsfeld Says Coalition Forces Near Baghdad

Washington, 3 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says coalition forces are closing in on Baghdad, as reports say U.S.-led troops are preparing an assault on Saddam International Airport.

Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing today that the fate of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime has been sealed by its actions.

The U.S. defense secretary said Iraqi soldiers and officers can still survive the war and help rebuild their country if they turn against Hussien. But Rumsfeld warned that Iraq is running out of "real soldiers" and soon all that will be left are what he called "war criminals."

He repeated the U.S. administration's view calling for an unconditional surrender of Iraqi forces. Rumsfeld said there is "not a chance" that the United States will agree to an arrangement that would halt the war and allow Hussein to stay in power.

General Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the joint news conference that the Iraqi regime has lost control of nearly half of the country. Myers said coalition forces are at the outskirts of Baghdad.

The Iraqi capital was dark tonight while explosions shook the central part and the outskirts of the city.

The power went off at about 1900 Prague time. It was the first widespread electrical failure in Baghdad since the U.S.-led bombardment began two weeks ago.

The reason for the loss of power was not immediately clear. Iraqi officials did not immediately comment on the outage. The U.S. military said it had not targeted the electrical system in Baghdad.

General Myers, giving an update on the U.S.-led campaign, said U.S. forces are "on the outskirts of Baghdad right now." But he refused to comment on media reports that coalition forces have launched an assault on the airport.

The news agencies Reuters and Associated Press both quote unnamed U.S. military sources as saying coalition forces tonight launched an assault on Baghdad's main airport, which is located some 20 kilometers southwest of the capital's center.