Subscribe

ARLINGTON, Va. — The war in Iraq is on track, but victory, while certain, is still a long way away, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday.

“Needless to say, we are much closer to the beginning than to the end,” Rumsfeld told reporters during a Pentagon briefing Tuesday afternoon. “This campaign could well become more dangerous in the coming days and weeks as coalition forces close in on Baghdad.”

U.S. forces are still about 200 miles inside Iraq, according to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who appeared with Rumsfeld. That figure is virtually unchanged from the previous day’s reported progress.

Rumsfeld and Myers spoke as British soldiers were increasingly embroiled in intense urban fighting in Basra, where an uprising reportedly was under way. It was not clear whether the uprising involved local Iraqis fighting against Iraqi military forces, of if the rebellion also included some attacks against the British.

Rumsfeld suggested that problems in Basra have been instigated by the Fedayeen, “fanatical” Saddam Hussein loyalists who the secretary said was “holding guns to the head” of the local populace.

Rumsfeld said that the Iraqis who are now causing problems for British troops in the city of Basra are not, in fact, part of the 51st Division that senior defense officials said had “simply melted away” last Friday, after their senior leader surrendered.

Some media reports have suggested that the 51st Division’s 8,000 soldiers did not actually take themselves out of the fight, but instead donned civilian clothes and slipped back into Basra.

But Myers said that it is not 51st Division soldiers inside Basra, but Republican Guard and Fedayeen troops who are using some of the equipment their brethren abandoned days ago.

“The people in Basra, for the most part, would be happy to be done with this regime,” Myers said.

Myers then made reference to 1991, when Iraqis in the south of the country were killed by the thousands by Saddam Hussein’s forces after the U.S. victory in Kuwait prompted them to rise up against their government. U.S. leaders did not use military force to protect the rebellion.“Rightly so, you have some very cautious people," Myers said.

Once Iraqis are convinced that the regime in Iraq is finished, rebellions will spread throughout the country, Rumsfeld predicted.

“The people will rise up, let there be no doubt,” Rumsfeld said. “They are repressed people.”

U.S. ground troops have been brought nearly to a standstill as a blinding sandstorm raged over much of southern Iraq, coupled with heavy resistance from Iraqi forces coming from almost every direction.

Air forces flew more than 1,000 sorties against Iraqi troops on Monday, Myers said, most of which were directed against Republic Guard units ringing Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the port of Umm Qasr “has been secured,” and troops are now preparing the facility to receive humanitarian aid, Myers said.

The resistance U.S. troops are encountering now “was expected,” Rumsfeld said.

Both he and Myers defended war plans for Iraq, saying that there are more than adequate U.S. forces available for the task ahead.

U.S. “forces are increasing [inside Iraq] every hour of every day, and that will continue,” Rumsfeld said.

“It’s a brilliant plan,” Myers added. “This is a plan that’s very well thought out and it will play out as we expected.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up