Iraqi Sees US Encircling
Baghdad In 5-10 Days

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's defense minister said Thursday he expected U.S.-led forces would encircle Baghdad within five to 10 days, but predicted that they would lose street-to-street fighting that could last for months.
"We set up our defenses in Baghdad. It will be no surprise that in five to 10 days they will be able to encircle all our positions in Baghdad. They have the capability to do so," Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed told a news conference.
"The enemy can bypass the resistance and go in the desert as far as it wants. In the end, where can he go? He has to enter the city," he said. Asked if he expected street fighting in Baghdad, he said: "Definitely."
Predicting an Iraqi victory, Ahmed said the 8-day-old war could last for months. "It can't be decided in 10 days. It could be decided in a month, two months or more," he said.
In the face of fierce Iraqi resistance, President Bush vowed Thursday to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power "no matter how long it takes."
Ahmed said U.S.-led forces were no longer expecting a quick victory: "Look at their talk six days ago when they were expecting a short fast hit. How their talk has changed."
"It should be long so they will pay the price. I hope they will pay so that will teach them a lesson and become a good example for others."
Later, Information Minister Mohammad Saeed al-Sahaf told Abu Dhabi television Iraq would not be cowed.
"I think it will become obvious to the world that they have entered (Iraq) with a kind of stupidity based on a simple idea that 'shock and awe' will make Iraqis kneel," he said.
As the camera rocked from explosions hitting Baghdad during the live interview, Sahaf said: "These cruise missiles don't scare anyone. We fish them out like fish out of water."
In a separate interview with Arabic broadcaster al-Jazeera, he said: "The situation is excellent, they are going to try to approach Baghdad...and I believe their grave will be there."
Asked what kind of battle he expected, Defense Minister Ahmed said: "Baghdad is the cradle of civilization. Iraqis inherited this history from their forefathers. They will defend this inheritance in a way that will satisfy God."
"God willing, Baghdad will be impregnable. We will fight to the end and everywhere. History will record how well Iraqis performed in defense of their capital," Ahmed said.
He said U.S. aerial bombardment of Iraqi army positions around the capital had caused minimum casualties so far.
"The regular army is well dug-in and soldiers' fox-holes are hard to hit accurately," he said.
He said U.S.-led forces were advancing toward Baghdad from the south, the southeast and southwest, but they had not managed to secure or occupy any Iraqi city so far including the port of Umm Qasr, which British forces say they have secured.
The United States has said it has forces either within 60 miles of Baghdad or approaching the city. Britain has said the forces are positioned there for a crucial battle around the capital with Iraq's top fighters, the Republican Guard.
Ahmed said that the U.S. supply lines were overstretched and reached as far as 300 miles and called a sandstorm that slowed the U.S. push northwards toward Baghdad in recent days "a gift from God."
Sahaf said of the extended U.S. supply lines: "They are a snake that is stretched over 500 km, we would like to stretch them even further and then start to chop them up."
Ahmed said Iraqi troops had broken the U.S. siege of the city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad and said U.S. forces had retreated into the desert due to Iraqi resistance there, taking their tanks and armored vehicles with them.
Referring to a find by British forces of protective chemical suits abandoned by Iraqi forces, which London said showed Baghdad was ready to use weapons of mass destruction, Ahmed said, "Every Iraq soldier carries his own chemical gear to protect himself against attack."
The United States and Britain invaded Iraq a week ago to overthrow Saddam and rid Iraq of alleged weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad denies having such weapons.



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