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Rumsfeld: Plans for new Iraq unfolding

Post-Iraq Saddam 'not a distant dream'

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

Rumsfeld:  Saddam Hussein
Rumsfeld: Saddam Hussein "no longer runs much of Iraq."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Casting Saddam Hussein as an increasingly irrelevant figure, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday the Iraqi leader "no longer runs much of Iraq" and that plans for a new Iraq are unfolding.

"As his regime collapses around him, the question is asked: Where is he? There are three possibilities: He's either dead or injured or not willing to show himself," Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news briefing.

With coalition forces moving throughout Baghdad -- even, as one general put it, "visiting" two presidential palaces -- Rumsfeld said the effort to put in place an interim Iraqi authority is moving ahead.

"Let me assure all Iraqis listening today that life without Saddam Hussein is not a distant dream," Rumsfeld said.

U.S. plans call for a civilian administration, headed by retired Gen. Jay Garner, to help with the transition to a new Iraqi government.

"It has currently moved from the United States to Kuwait, and it will eventually move to Iraq," Rumsfeld said of that effort. Under the interim authority, a group of approved Iraqis will run non-controversial government agencies, such as the agriculture ministry, according to Pentagon officials. That authority will also work on new laws and establishing an electoral process.

The United States, Rumsfeld said, does not want to impose a government on the Iraqi people. He refuted the idea that the United States was positioning Ahmad Chalabi -- the long-time head of the opposition Iraqi National Congress who is now in southern Iraq -- as an interim postwar Iraqi leader.

"The Iraqi people are going to sort out what the Iraqi government ought to look like," Rumsfeld said.

The defense secretary also disputed suggestions that he has vetoed the role of specific personnel in the Iraqi reconstruction effort. "I've not said a word on the subject," Rumsfeld said.

President Bush was meeting in Northern Ireland with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to talk about postwar Iraq. One key question the two allies are expected to discuss is what role the United Nations ought to play in that effort with Britain advocating a bigger role than the Bush administration has embraced.

Rumsfeld, joined by Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described Iraqi resistance to the U.S.-led bid to topple Saddam's government as weak and spotty, but they cautioned that tough fights could lie ahead.

Damage to the Republican Guard units -- the best trained and most loyal of Saddam's troops -- has been significant, they said. Myers said, for example, the Republican Guard units have only "a couple of dozen" tanks out of 800 they once possessed. The rest, he said, have been abandoned or destroyed.

Since the war began, Myers reported that 750 Tomahawk cruise missiles have been fired and more than 18,000 precision-guided munitions have been dropped.

As has become a regular practice at Pentagon briefings, Rumsfeld began with a litany of what U.S. officials have described as abuses by Iraqis on the battlefield, including the use of children as human shields and the use of schools and hospitals as military facilities.

At one point, Rumsfeld said, "They've executed POWs."

Asked about that point later, Rumsfeld said he did not mean to suggest that American prisoners of war have been executed. "We do know they executed a lot of prisoners over the years," he said.

--CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King and Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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