US-led Forces Still Face Numerous Challenges in Iraq

The US-led coalition forces still face numerous and even daunting challenges in Iraq despite the collapse of Iraqi authorities in Baghdad three weeks after the war broke out.

"There is still a great deal of work to do and many unfinished missions to complete before victory can be declared," United States Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon briefing on Wednesday. Several US commanders also cautioned that the war was not over yet.

First, from the military point of view, work remains half-done in Baghdad, capital of Iraq, because only part of the city has been searched by US troops. American forces have yet to move into some key areas that have long been dominated by President Saddam Hussein's government and defended by the paramilitary Fedayeen.

The coalition forces also have yet to enter Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, which is defended by the Adnan Republican Guard division.

Mosul, a major city in northern Iraq, is still under Saddam's control, and so are the oil fields in northern Iraq. Some US officials are concerned that the Iraqi authorities may try to destroy the oil fields.

Latest reports said that some Iraqi forces were regrouping near Tikrit, indicating that several major battles remain ahead for the coalition forces.

Secondly, to put down the chaotic order and looting in Iraqi cities is a matter of great urgency, analysts believe.

In Baghdad and Basra, Iraq's two biggest cities, gangs of civilians were pillaging government offices, hospitals, empty schools, shops and other buildings and making off with almost everything -- from desks and chairs to mattresses and refrigerators. Even the United Nations' office in Baghdad failed to escape the looting.

United Nations officials reportedly expressed their "very serious concerns" to the US and British forces over the widespread security breakdown, but did not receive an immediate response about what steps might be taken to restore law and order.

Thirdly, the need for humanitarian aid has been grown day by day. Most Iraqis have obtained food in the form of government rations under the United Nations' oil-for-food program. Since the authorities in charge of rations have collapsed, food rations have been running out in some cities.

Electricity in Baghdad has been out of service for more than a week. Reports said some water supply facilities in Baghdad and Basra have been either bombed by US warplanes or destroyed by looters, leaving many people without fresh water.

Last but not the least, the surprisingly quick collapse of organized resistance in Baghdad on Wednesday turned international attention to the hunt for Iraq's alleged massive stores of chemical and biological weapons that the Bush administration has used as its main justification for the war.

In the months before the war, the Bush administration made a detailed case to the world about Iraq's extensive weapons capabilities. It claimed that Iraq had about 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinus toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent and 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical war.

Three weeks has past since Bush declared war and US-led troops have occupied much of Iraq, yet no confirmed evidence has been found to show that Iraq uses and has caches of prohibited weapons.

The failure to find such weapons would not only embarrass the Bush administration, but also complicate US efforts to justify its war against Iraq, analysts here said.



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