— By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. and British warplanes intensified a
ferocious around-the-clock bombardment of Baghdad on Saturday, as
U.S. Marines battled Iraqi forces around the southern city of Basra
and America's Gulf commander vowed to conduct a campaign of
U.S. infantry said they had captured a vital bridge over the
Euphrates river, needed for their push toward Baghdad, but elsewhere
invading troops met some stiffer-than-expected resistance as they
pushed deeper into Iraq.
By contrast to opposition on the ground, U.S. and British forces
had dominance of the skies, striking Baghdad with a devastating
aerial assault that set off giant fireballs, thunderous explosions
and glowing clouds.
Warplanes targeted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's palace on the
banks of the River Tigris, government and military targets and other
symbols of his rule. The precise scale of Iraqi fatalities from the
bombing and the hostilities was not clear.
U.S. Army General Tommy Franks, commander of the invasion, said
his forces were using munitions on a "scale never before seen" and
predicted that victory was certain.
"This will be a campaign unlike any other in history. A campaign
characterized by shock, by surprise, by flexibility... and by the
application of overwhelming force," he said in his first briefing
since the attack on Iraq began on Thursday.
Iraq denounced the attackers as criminals and appealed to the
United Nations to halt the invasion "unconditionally."
After a day of fierce fighting, U.S. Marines said they had
defeated Iraqi forces on the outskirts of the oil city of Basra,
some 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, taking hundreds of prisoners in
the process. "It's definitely a big victory," U.S. Marine Captain
Andrew Bergen told Reuters.
Further north, in the city of Nassiriya, U.S. troops forging a
path to Baghdad secured a bridge over the Euphrates, dislodging
Iraqi forces who had slowed their advance.
After two days of skirmishes, Marines said they had won control
of Umm Qasr, Iraq's only deep-water port which lies close to the
Kuwaiti border, despite pockets of resistance.
"Both the new and the old ports are secure," Marine Captain Rick
Crevier, one of the commanders of the effort to capture Umm Qasr's
twin port facilities, said.
CAMPAIGN COULD BE HARDER, LONGER, BUSH SAYS
Iraqi state television showed President Saddam Hussein meeting
officials on Saturday, praising Iraqi soldiers facing the invasion.
The film gave no clue as to when the meetings took place. The
announcer said they took place on Saturday.
Franks said he did not know if Saddam was dead or alive after
ferocious missile attacks on Baghdad this week, but that there were
signs of confusion in the Iraqi government.
In his weekly radio address to the nation, President Bush
cautioned against over-confidence: "A campaign on harsh terrain in a
vast country could be longer and more difficult than some have
predicted," he said.
Operation Iraqi Freedom, launched to oust Saddam and the ruling
Baath Party, unlike the 1991 Gulf War, failed to win the endorsement
of the United Nations Security Council.
Bush argues it is vital to topple Saddam's government to secure
and destroy weapons of mass destruction that Baghdad says it does
This is the first war Washington has fought since a strategy was
unveiled last year that asserts Washington has the right to launch
pre-emptive strikes on countries deemed a threat even before the
United States is itself attacked.
In a defiant response, Iraq's information minister said the
attacks were the work of an "international gang of criminal
bastards" and had wounded more than 200 civilians in Baghdad.
Health Minister Umeed Midhat Mubarak said later that at least
three people had been "martyred" in the raids on Baghdad.
As sun set, Iraqi forces lit oil-filled trenches around Baghdad
in an apparent bid to create a smokescreen to hinder air strikes.
Military experts said this would not halt the U.S. bombers and as
darkness fell, new air raids swept the city.
Intensifying hostilities drew fresh anti-war protests.
Protesters massed in London to denounce British involvement in
the Iraq war, as emotional anti-war demonstrators filled city
streets across Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
Demanding "Blair Out!" and "Bring Our Boys Home!," demonstrators
gathered in central London's Hyde Park to put pressure on Prime
Minister Tony Blair's government.
LIGHTS STAY ON IN BAGHDAD
U.S. officials said they had scrapped plans to move U.S. troops
through Turkey into northern Iraq and instead would send the 4th
Infantry Division from Texas to Kuwait.
Abandonment of the use of Turkey to open a planned "northern
front" followed Ankara's refusal to provide transit rights for as
many as 62,000 American troops into Iraq.
Washington told Iran it took a report of misfired missiles
landing in Iranian territory seriously and would investigate.
U.S. and British officials said they were doing everything they
could to limit civilian casualties and the bombing raids were aimed
at Saddam's control network, not the Iraqi people.
"The lights stayed on in Baghdad, but the instruments of tyranny
are collapsing," British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told a news
conference in London.
As thousands of U.S. tanks and armored vehicles plowed through
southern Iraq aiming for Baghdad, military sources said the invading
force was anxious not to get involved in street fighting in cities
along the route.
A British spokesman said U.S.-led forces were hoping to negotiate
Basra's surrender, while General Franks said his forces had no plans
for confrontation in the city.
He added that to date, U.S. and British troops had taken between
1,000-2,000 prisoners of war. Reuters correspondents with U.S. units
said rank and file Iraqi troops appeared ill-equipped as they
surrendered, with some walking barefoot.
British Defense Chief of Staff Michael Boyce said Iraq's 51st
Division had surrendered en masse in Basra. An Iraqi military
spokesman denied this.
SADDAM'S BEST TROOPS GUARD BAGHDAD
The Iraqi leader has deployed his best troops, including elite
Republican Guard units, in Baghdad, where he may try to draw the
invaders into street fighting that would neutralize some of their
overwhelming technological advantages.
A Kurdish faction running part of northern Iraq said U.S. forces
fired missiles and launched an air raid on the mountain stronghold
of Ansar al-Islam, a group Washington accuses of ties to Osama bin
Laden's al Qaeda network.
Later on Saturday a car bomb exploded close to the border with
Iran, killing an Australian journalist and one other person. Kurdish
officials blamed Ansar for the attack. Three other British
journalists were missing.
A journalist with Britain's Sky TV said four U.S. soldiers he was
traveling with were killed in central Iraq after their vehicles were
attacked. There was no immediate confirmation.
Two British navy helicopters collided over the Gulf, killing six
British crewmen and an American officer. On Thursday, eight British
marines and four U.S. Marines died when their helicopter crashed in
|A U.S. Marine A10 pilot flexes
as he taxis for takeoff from a base in Kuwait March 22, 2003.
The U.S. and Britain unleashed their first daylight air
strikes on Baghdad on Saturday after pounding it with a
fearsome night blitz. Photo by Russell
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