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March 29, 2003

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Baghdad Pounded, Suicide Bomber Kills 4 U.S. Troops


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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. and British warplanes launched waves of withering air strikes on Baghdad on Saturday and a suicide bomber killed four American soldiers at a checkpoint in what Iraq warned was just a foretaste of more such attacks.

A U.S. official said a car exploded at a checkpoint near the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Najaf, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, killing the Iraqi driver and four American soldiers who were searching the vehicle.

"Any method that stops or kills the enemy will be used," Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan told a news conference. "The United States will turn the whole world into martyrs against it."

Iraqi state television named the bomber as Ali Hammadi al-Namani, an army officer, and claimed he had killed 11 Americans, not four. It said President Saddam Hussein had awarded medals to the bomber.

The suicide attack, the first against the U.S.-led invasion force, threatens to complicate Washington's task of defending supply lines and preparing for a major battle for Baghdad.

American officers in the field said there would be a pause in the advance on Baghdad for four to six days to consolidate supply lines, but headquarters commanders appeared to contradict them, saying they were pressing on with the war on many fronts.

At war command headquarters in Qatar, U.S. spokesman Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart said operations were continuing "exactly on the plan that we would like," and Iraqi attacks had not halted logistical support.

"There is no pause on the battlefield. Just because you see a particular formation pause on the battlefield it does not mean there is a pause," he asserted.


Some of the heaviest bomb and missile attacks targeted the center and outskirts of Baghdad, with repeated raids on government buildings and on outlying areas where the Republican Guard are believed to be dug in.

"There has been a very heavy bombardment to the south and to the west. It seems unprecedented," said Reuters correspondent Nadim Ladki. "It is clear this is a major bombing campaign. The thuds of explosions just won't stop."

Ramadan lashed out at the U.S. and British governments. "They are bragging that a B-52 bomber can ... kill 500 people at a time... That's why people are transforming themselves into bombs," he said.

"One day, we will see that one martyr operation will kill 5,000 instead of the 500 you kill with your bombs."

A U.S. military spokesman said 30 Apache helicopters had attacked Republican Guards southwest of Baghdad, killing at least 50 troops and destroying about 25 vehicles.

"We fired 40 missiles and we had 40 hits," said Maj. Hugh Cate of the 101st Airborne Division.

In Washington, a defense official said the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division had placed troops near Nassiriya, 235 miles southeast of Baghdad, to boost security for convoys.

Renuart said some cruise missiles aimed at Iraq had fallen on Saudi Arabia, forcing planners to suspend certain routes for launches to avoid endangering Saudi civilians.

The United States says it was checking to see whether its forces were responsible for a devastating explosion in a crowded Baghdad market on Friday. A hospital doctor said the toll from the attack had risen to 62 dead and 49 wounded.

Shi'ites in the city's stricken Shula district, where the missile hit, voiced fury at the United States.

British intelligence sources said Iraq has replaced the commander of air defenses in Baghdad after Iraqi surface-to-air missiles aimed at Western war planes had missed and fallen back on the city.

American and British officials have suggested that stray Iraqi missiles could have been to blame for explosions in Baghdad that killed scores of civilians this week.


President Bush said American-led forces were less than 50 miles from Baghdad and were fighting the "most desperate" Iraqi army units before a battle for the capital.

"Every atrocity has confirmed the justice and urgency of our cause," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

Achieving Bush's goal of complete victory seemed some way off, however, with U.S. columns finding their advance hampered by Iraqi resistance and supply problems.

"We have almost out-run our logistics lines," said one officer in the northernmost stretch of the U.S. thrust.

Saddam had been expected to fiercely defend his power bases in Baghdad and Tikrit, but few analysts anticipated sustained Iraqi resistance in the mainly Shi'ite southern towns that staged bloody revolts against him after the 1991 Gulf War.

"It is hard to avoid the impression that they are meeting much more resistance than they had expected," U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said in a Swedish radio interview.

In northern Iraq, anti-Saddam Kurdish fighters said they had pushed up to 16 miles overnight from the Qushtapa crossing point into territory previously held by Iraqi troops.

The claim could not be confirmed. If true, it would be the second sign this week that Iraqi troops have pulled back toward the oil city of Kirkuk after repeated U.S. air strikes.

U.S. planes bombed a building where some 200 Iraqi paramilitaries were said to have met in the southern city of Basra. A military spokesman said early reports indicated that "no one came out" of the shattered two-story structure.

A British soldier was killed and five were wounded on, Saturday, apparently in "friendly fire" from U.S. aircraft, British officials said.

Before the incident the official British death toll in the war was 20, only five of whom were killed in combat.

Since the war began, U.S. forces have lost 30 killed, 104 wounded, 15 missing and seven taken prisoner, a U.S. official said. The toll includes accidents as well as combat.

photo credit and caption:
Soldiers of the 1st Battalion The Parachute Regiment protect themselves as a Chinook helicopter takes off during operations at their camp in southern Iraq March 29, 2003. Baghdad came under coalition attack again, a day after dozens of people were reportedly killed by a blast at a busy marketplace. Photo by Pool/Reuters

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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