NEAR KARBALA, Iraq April 2 —
U.S. soldiers spearheading the push toward Baghdad advanced
through a gap west of Karbala on Wednesday after a night-long
bombardment of the Shiite holy city and the first major ground
battle against Saddam Hussein's hardcore Republican Guard.
As they made their way through the Karbala gap some 50 miles from
the Iraqi capital, forces from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division
launched a heavy attack on towns and positions north of Karbala,
where 2,000 Fedayeen loyalists and Baath Party members were believed
to be hunkered down.
At least 20 Iraqis were killed and an unknown number of fighters
were taken prisoner, field reports said. No U.S. casualties were
One tank belonging to the Republican Guard's Nebuchadnezzar's
Division was also destroyed, field reports said.
Lt. Col. Scott Rutter, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 7th
Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, said Iraqi troops concentrated their
attacks on his battalion, allowing the rest of the brigade to pass
through the Karbala gap unscathed.
The gap is a chokepoint between a lake to the west and the city
of Karbala to the east that opens onto a plain.
Farther to the east, Marines seized an important bridge over the
Tigris River near the city of Kut amid fighting with the Baghdad
Division of the Republican Guard, according to a Pentagon official
who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The bridge allowed thousands of Marines from the 1st
Expeditionary Force to cross the river in their push toward Baghdad
from the southeast.
Around Karbala, Iraqi defenders fired anti-aircraft guns into the
sky most of the night, as U.S. artillery pounded suspected military
positions in the ancient town. B-52 bombers circled Karbala
throughout the night, carpet-bombing some areas while fighter jets
went after small targets.
Late Tuesday, the Army fought parts of the guard's Medina
Division after Tomahawk cruise missiles and airstrikes pounded
division positions near Karbala.
Pentagon officials have said the Republican Guard must be
eliminated before ground troops move on Baghdad. For more than a
week, coalition airstrikes and artillery barrages have pounded
Republican Guard units to the south, west and north of the
The Pentagon's top general, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman
Richard Myers, said the Medina Division's fighting strength had been
reduced by more than half. Military officials said the Baghdad
Division, centered around Kut, also has been similarly worn
An F-14 Tomcat fighter on a bombing mission in Iraq crashed late
Tuesday because of mechanical failure and both crew members were
rescued via helicopter, U.S. Central Command said. Neither was
That brings to 67 the number of coalition forces extracted from
hostile situations by search-and-rescue teams, the military
The U.S. military would not give any further details of the
Also, a Marine Corps VA-8B Harrier jet was lost while coming in
for a landing on the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau. The jet
plunged into the water. The pilot ejected and was in fair condition,
Overnight, U.S. warplanes dropped 16 2,000-pound precision-guided
bombs on an intelligence compound in the southern city of Basra and
hit radar sites, a Republican Guard barracks and other targets in
and around Baghdad, military officials said.
The intelligence compound about 10 multi-story buildings in a
complex the size of a city block was severely damaged, said Lt.
Brook DeWalt, a spokesman for the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in
the Persian Gulf.
The attack was the busiest night of the war so far for the Kitty
|U.S. Marines of the 3rd
batallion, 11th regiment, load shells as they fire on Iraqi
positions with 155mm artillery near the town of Diwaniyah,
south central Iraq, Tuesday, April 1, 2003. American soldiers
on the road to Baghdad are engaged in heavy fighting with
Iraqi forces loyal to Saddam Hussein, while the U.S.-led
coalition launched missiles early Tuesday toward Baghdad and
the holy Shiite Muslim city of Karbala in the southwest. (AP
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