March 22 —
Edging closer to Iraq's hard-core defenders, U.S. and British
forces besieged the southern city of Basra on Saturday and rolled to
within 150 miles of Baghdad. Diplomatic complications closed off the
option of a heavy invasion from the north.
Allies boasted "the instruments of tyranny are collapsing," and
so, from all appearances, was the will to fight among thousands in
the regular Iraqi army. Still, resistance in some areas was
On the outskirts of Basra, a city of 1.3 million where Saddam
Hussein's tough security fighters were thought to be lodged, allies
captured the airport in a gunbattle and took a bridge.
U.S. forces crossed the Euphrates River and were halfway to
Baghdad, two days after spilling from Kuwait in a dusty dash that
has secured strategic oil fields, a seaport and towns.
Near Basra, Cobra attack helicopters, attack jets, tanks and 155
mm howitzers fought ahead of the troops to clear Highway 80. The
road was nicknamed Highway of Death during the 1991 Gulf War because
of an American air assault so devastating and graphic it even gave
U.S. officials pause.
Officials said 1,000 to 2,000 Iraqi soldiers were in allied
custody and many others gave up the fight. But six divisions of the
Republican Guard, Saddam's best and most loyal soldiers, were still
in the way.
"So we must remain prepared for potentially tough fights as we
move forward," Gen. Stanley McChrystal told a Pentagon briefing.
"There's a long way to go."
The fate of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein remained unknown to
the U.S. and British officials trying to kill him.
"Actually, I don't know if he's alive or not," said U.S. Gen.
Tommy Franks, the war commander.
Saddam was shown on Iraqi TV again Saturday but there was no
telling when the tape was made.
U.S. officials had no new, credible intelligence showing whether
he had survived assaults on his compounds, or whether he might have
But a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said
another senior Iraqi leader was known to be alive and might be
running some of Iraq's defenses: Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid
al-Tikriti, known to his enemies as "Chemical Ali" for his role in a
chemical-weapons attack on Kurds in 1988.
Any thought the allies would limit air attacks to the cover of
darkness vanished in the smoky sunlight Saturday.
Twenty huge columns of smoke rose along Baghdad's southern
horizon in the afternoon and intermittent explosions were heard
through the capital.
But when darkness did fall, the intensity picked up. Strong
blasts rocked the capital. Warplanes were heard overhead once again.
The attacks eased as the night wore on.
Sickened by the escalation of a campaign they already opposed,
demonstrators rallied worldwide to give voice to their rage. Even
so, crowds were smaller than before the conflict.
"We don't want to see more innocent people die," said Susan Sonz,
who joined tens of thousands marching down Broadway in New York
City. Tens of thousands of people marched in France, too, some
holding rainbow-hued peace flags and others shouting "Bush,
Italian protests were marked by smashed windows in Milan and
vandalized gas stations in Rome.
After weeks of recalcitrance by Turkish leaders, U.S. military
officials gave up on using Turkish bases to move heavy armored
forces into northern Iraq, and redirected ships loaded with the
weaponry to the Persian Gulf.
The 4th Infantry's soldiers, about 17,000, have remained out of
action at Fort Hood, Texas, pending resolution of the matter. They
will probably enter the conflict from Kuwait; how many is not
In Baghdad, an earlier round of bombing, seemingly apocalyptic in
scale, terrifying in its effect, laid waste to presidential palaces,
government offices and military headquarters.
But only three people died in that bombardment, Iraqi officials
said Saturday. They said more than 200 were injured.
"The Americans have no conscience," said Amal Hassan Kamel,
tending to her 8-year-old son, Wa'ad, in hospital with shrapnel
wounds. "What have our children done to deserve this?"
Iraqi officials showed reporters the residential al-Qadassiya
neighborhood, where seven houses were destroyed and 12 damaged, as
well as a tourist complex along the Tigris river and an empty
orphanage that were hit.
By luck or design, Baghdad's electrical grid survived the
"The lights stayed on in Baghdad, but the instruments of tyranny
are collapsing," said British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon.
West of Baghdad, another of Saddam's palaces was destroyed
Saturday in a strike by warplanes from the USS Theodore Roosevelt,
according to a commander aboard the carrier.
And in the far north, U.S. forces fired Tomahawk cruise missiles
at suspected positions of Ansar al Islam guerrillas, accused of
having ties to al-Qaida terrorists.
Neighboring Iran protested hits on Iranian territory by at least
three U.S. missiles. The State Department said Washington was
investigating and respected Iran's territorial integrity.
Diplomatic fallout extended to Moscow, where Russian Foreign
Minister Igor Ivanov accused America of trying to seize Iraq's oil
wealth under the guise of liberating the country.
"Iraq does not need democracy brought on the wings of Tomahawks,"
Ivanov said. He was worried about the future of lucrative contracts
Russian companies have with Saddam's government.
As allied forces moved rapidly through the desert, a few children
waved; others patted their stomachs or lifted their hands to their
mouths to show they were hungry.
Bedraggled Iraqi soldiers surrendered, including members of the
8,000-man 51st Infantry Division, a mechanized unit stationed in
Basra. U.S. officials said many surrendered; others dispersed.
But the city of palm groves and oil facilities Iraq's main
seaport and second largest city bristled with danger and
Saddam's security forces in Basra opened up with artillery and
heavy machine guns. Facing the prospect of urban warfare, allied
commanders hoped to win the surrender of their enemy rather than
have to overpower the city.
The British took charge of the Basra fighting Saturday as U.S.
Marines pressed north
Even a smaller conquest, the Umm Qasr seaport, was not entirely
safe after two days; some Iraqi combatants slipped into civilian
garb and become guerillas.
The U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division surged 100 miles through
the desert, heading straight for Baghdad and the well-trained
Republican Guard troops defending the capital.
President Bush convened a wartime national security meeting at
the Camp David, Md., presidential retreat, where he was spending his
first weekend since unleashing the armed forces on Iraq on
In his weekly radio address, he said "our mission is clear to
disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's
support for terrorism and to free the Iraqi people."
Franks, from his regional command post in Qatar, said coalition
forces hadn't found weapons of mass destruction yet.
Iraqi state television, trying to show Saddam is still alive and
in control, reported that he had two meetings Saturday with senior
government members and one of his sons. It showed footage of Saddam.
Saddam had not been seen since he appeared on TV after the opening
air strikes in a video that might have been recorded earlier.
|US Marines, members of 15 Marine
Expeditionary Unit (MEU), in the port of Umm Qasr in southern
Iraq Saturday, March 22, 2003. U.S. Marines took full control
Friday, March 21, 2003 of the strategic port of Umm Qasr and
thousands of Marines and British soldiers dug in around the
city. (AP Photo/Simon Walker,
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