WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested on Thursday that U.S. forces bearing down on Baghdad might lay siege to the capital and hope anti-Saddam Hussein citizens rise up against the government before American troops have to invade the city of 5 million.
Rumsfeld also said the United States and its battlefield allies would accept nothing short of total victory in Iraq.
"There isn't going to be a cease-fire," Rumsfeld told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee. He said later, "It will end at the point where that regime does not exist and a new regime is ready to go in its place."
Rumsfeld appeared before two congressional committees Thursday amid efforts by the Bush administration to counteract speculation that the war effort is bogging down and that it underestimated the need for armored forces to protect attacking U.S. troops' long supply lines inside Iraq.
The defense secretary said there is a near-continuous flow of fresh U.S. forces into the Persian Gulf, noting that 1,000 paratroopers from the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade jumped into northern Iraq on Wednesday. He estimated that between 1,500 and 2,500 troops are arriving daily.
The total number of American forces in the gulf region stands at 250,000. Close to 90,000 are in Iraq, a senior defense official said Thursday. That's an increase of some 13,000 since Tuesday.
An additional 100,000 to 120,000 ground troops are in the process of heading to the gulf, including the Army's 1st Armored Division, 1st Cavalry Division and the 2nd and 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiments. Also, elements of the 4th Infantry Division left for Kuwait on Thursday from Fort Hood, Texas, although the ships carrying the division's equipment won't all be there until about April 12.
A senior U.S. military commander, speaking only on condition of anonymity, said Thursday that U.S. special forces also have quietly secured and cleared large areas of western Iraq, creating a crucial buffer to ensure Saddam's forces cannot widen the conflict by launching strikes on Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel.
U.S. and British warplanes flew about 1,500 missions Thursday, many of them to pound Republican Guard positions outside Baghdad, a military official said. Five hundred of the total were strike missions. The rest were support missions like refueling and reconnaissance.
A U.S. B-2 stealth bomber dropped two 4,700-pound, satellite-guided "bunker-busting" bombs Thursday night on a major communications tower on the east bank of the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad, U.S. military officials said. Defense officials said the strike was meant to hamper communications between Saddam Hussein's regime and Iraq's military.
Iraq claimed to have downed an Army Apache attack helicopter and a U.S. drone aircraft, but Pentagon officials confirmed only the loss of a reconnaissance drone. They said footage of a downed Apache shown on Iraqi state-run television was of an Apache that was lost during fighting Monday.
After curtailing airstrikes because of blinding sandstorms and thunderstorms, allied planes intensified their attacks Thursday as the weather improved. They flew more than 600 strike missions across Iraq, with special focus on Republican Guard forces ringing Baghdad, officials said.
Asked by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., what American ground troops would do once they reached Baghdad, Rumsfeld answered by alluding to what is happening at Basra, Iraq's second-largest city. British forces there have laid siege, hoping for a successful uprising by the city's Shiites.
Rumsfeld noted that both Basra and Baghdad have large Shiite populations. "And they are not terribly favorable to the regime," Rumsfeld said. "They've been repressed, and they are in the present time in Basra assisting us." He said that roughly half the Baghdad population is Shiite.
"The regime has tended to be fearful of them and repress them," he said. Rumsfeld said he expected Saddam's loyalists to shoot any Iraqi troops in Baghdad who try to surrender and those who might try to assist U.S. forces.
"We will go through a period where we'll have to deal with that problem," he said.
Rumsfeld did not say how long Gen. Tommy Franks, the war commander, would wait before launching the final phase of the attack on Baghdad. He left little doubt, however, that Franks has a plan for fighting the 30,000 or so Republican Guard troops north, south and east of Baghdad.
"I think it's only reasonable to expect that it will require the coalition forces moving through some Republican Guard units and destroying them or capturing them before you'll see the crumbling of the regime," he said.
The Republican Guard are Saddam's best trained and equipped military forces.
If the war reaches that stage, the large Shiite population in Baghdad might feel emboldened to revolt, Rumsfeld said, obviating the need for an invasion that could result in heavy losses.
The invading forces approaching Baghdad are led by the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and the Army's 101st Airborne Division. Although more heavy forces are designated for deployment from bases in the United States and Germany, none are likely to reach their staging areas in Kuwait before April.