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Rumsfeld: 'The tide is turning'

'Much work remains'

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld:
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "The regime has been dealt a serious blow."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Declaring "the tide is turning" in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Wednesday heralded "a good day for the Iraqi people" amid clear evidence in Baghdad that Saddam Hussein's rule was crumbling.

At the same time, Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, struck a cautious note, stressing that battles raged and parts of Iraq remained in control of Saddam sympathizers and fighters. "More people are going to be killed," Rumsfeld bluntly warned.

Throughout the Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld mixed a sense of optimism with a somber assessment of what lies ahead.

He rattled off a list of remaining tasks: capturing or accounting for Saddam and members of the senior leadership; finding U.S. prisoners of war; securing the northern oil fields; locating and securing weapons of mass destruction; destroying terrorist operations in Iraq; locating Baath Party members and records; securing the country's borders, and locating wealth Rumsfeld said Saddam's regime had amassed both inside and outside Iraq.

"Much work remains, but this we can say with certainty: The tide is turning; the regime has been dealt a serious blow," Rumsfeld said. Coalition forces, he added, would not stop until "Saddam Hussein's regime has been removed from every corner of that country."

Rumsfeld said the fate of the Iraqi leader -- who has been targeted by coalition bombings -- remains unknown. "He's not been around, he's not active; therefore, he is either dead, or he's incapacitated, or he's healthy and cowering in some tunnel someplace trying to avoid being caught," Rumsfeld said of Saddam.

A pleased Rumsfeld, who only last week found himself peppered with questions about the progress of the military campaign to topple Saddam's government, hinted at what other Bush administration officials also have suggested -- that the fall of a dictator in Iraq could be the impetus for the spread of democracy throughout the Middle East.

"We are seeing history unfold, events that will shape the course of a country, the fate of a people and potentially the future of the region," Rumsfeld said. "Saddam Hussein is now taking his rightful place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed brutal dictators, and the Iraqi people are well on their way to freedom."

And he again warned Syria, saying some intelligence reports indicate that Syria was offering safe passage to members of Iraq's senior leadership and allowing some military equipment to move from Syria into Iraq.

"We find it notably unhelpful," Rumsfeld said of Syria's action. Asked what kind of U.S. action Syria might face, Rumsfeld replied, "We're still dealing with Iraq."

The defense secretary defended humanitarian efforts to help Iraqis, saying aid was flowing into the country and more was on the way. A U.S.-led civilian authority -- which would run Iraq's ministries and gradually turn some of them over to Iraqis before an interim government takes shape -- would arrive in Baghdad as soon as the city is secure.

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