March 31 —
American forces battled Iraqi defenders in fierce street fighting
50 miles south of Baghdad on Monday, pointing toward a drive on the
capital. Army guards shot seven Iraqi women and children to death
when their van refused orders to stop at a checkpoint, officials
U.S. troops and tanks encountered rocket-propelled grenades and
small arms fire in a dawn raid against Republican Guard defenders of
Hindiyah, a key city astride the Euphrates River. Other units fought
to isolate Najaf to the south and prevent attacks on U.S. supply
"There are maneuvers going (on) to try to destroy those divisions
that stand in our way" of Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said
at the Pentagon. He added that more than 3,000 precision-guided
bombs have been dropped on Iraq in the past few days, out of 8,000
in the entire war.
In the northern part of Iraq, commanders said an assault on a
compound controlled by an Islamic Iraqi group turned up lists of
names of suspected militants living in the United states.
And heavy bombing was reported during the day, from areas near
the northern oil fields to downtown Baghdad to Republican Guard
defensive positions south of the city. Bombing south of the capital,
probably against Republican Guard positions, resumed at daylight
On the 13th day of Operation Iraqi Freedom, British officials
claimed that 8,000 Iraqis have been taken prisoner so far.
But a defiant Iraqi foreign minister said invading forces face
the choice between death or surrender. "Every day that passes the
United States and Britain are sinking deeper in the mud of defeat,"
said Naji Sabri.
Iraqi television aired footage of President Saddam Hussein and
his sons Odai and Qusai, but there was no way of determining when
the video was shot. Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, said on PBS that U.S. intelligence sources have
been unable to confirm that Saddam survived the March 19 strike on a
bunker where he was believed to be staying but said, "That doesn't
mean he's dead."
For his part, President Bush warned that Saddam "may try to bring
terror to our shores." The United States is acting to prevent such
threats, he said as he issued his latest forecast of victory. "Day
by day we are moving closer to Baghdad. Day by day we are moving
closer to victory," Bush said during a trip to Philadelphia.
Officials said the civilians were killed when Army guards opened
fire at a checkpoint near Najaf, the same general area where four
soldiers from the same unit were killed in a weekend car bombing.
This time, officials said Army guards fired warning shots at the
vehicle carrying 13 people, then fired into its engine, but neither
action stopped the van. Two other civilians were injured and four
unharmed in the incident, which the military is investigating.
"In light of recent terrorist attacks by the Iraqi regime, the
soldiers exercised considerable restraint to avoid the unnecessary
loss of life," said a statement from U.S. Central Command.
The official casualty count for Americans stood at 44 dead, seven
captured and 16 missing. The British death toll rose to 26 with the
death of a soldier Monday in southern Iraq.
Iraqi officials have given no estimate of military casualties but
have said at least 425 civilians have been killed and thousands
Some defecting Iraqis described harrowing conditions, and not
only from American air bombardments.
One, who agreed to talk on condition his name not be used, said
agents of the ruling Baath party attempted to shoot deserters. "But
we decided it was either die from an American bomb or be killed by
our own people," he said in the Kurdish town of Kalak in northern
American and British warplanes continued to bomb at will.
Thunderous explosions rocked the Baghdad skyline after dark, and
smoke billowed from the Old Palace presidential compound. Iraqi
state-run television was briefly bombed off the air, and nearly all
telephone service was knocked out in the capital.
Officials in Biyare, in northern Iraq, said the assault on a
compound controlled by Ansar al-Islam turned up documents, computer
discs and other material belonging to Arab fighters from around the
Middle East. The administration has longed claimed that the
Iraqi-based group and al-Qaida are connected. But there was no
immediate indication of evidence that tied Ansar to Saddam.
McChrystal said a week of intensive bombing has caused a "very
significant weakening of the forces" arrayed to protect Baghdad, and
added that some Republican Guard units are evidently being
repositioned to reinforce those most severely degraded.
Apart from the 8,000 precision-guided bombs, he said 700 Tomahawk
land attack missiles have been fired at Iraqi targets since the war
Much of the day's fighting occurred south of Baghdad, where
American forces are gathering strength for the push toward the
U.S. troops staged a raid as the sun rose on Hindiyah, a city of
80,000. Iraqis used small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades to
try to prevent a column of tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles from
taking control of a bridge over the Euphrates.
"This must have been important to him to send down a Republican
Guard brigade," said Col. David Perkins, whose troops were facing
Iraqis wearing the distinctive patches of Saddam's elite units.
Inside the city, U.S. soldiers found a small cache of weapons.
But the haul was bigger at the local Baath party headquarters.
There, the Americans found tons of ammunition and hundreds of
weapons, including several boxes of American grenades marked
"Property of the Ministry of Defence of Jordan."
Maps inside the building showed Iraqi military positions and the
expected route of the U.S. attack.
The 1st and 2nd brigades of the 101st Airborne Division battled
to isolate Najaf, a Shiite holy city. Iraqi forces attacked with
mortar and small arms fire, and Maj. Carl Purvis, an Army spokesman,
said the Army forces were prepared for house-to-house combat.
"They are trained and poised to do that if necessary," he
In Washington, the State Department said Secretary of State Colin
Powell will travel to Turkey and Belgium on Tuesday for talks on the
war as well as postwar reconstruction of Iraq.
|U.S. Army soldiers from A
Company 3rd Battalion 7th Infantry Regiment approach an
injured woman who was caught in the crossfire with Iraqi
forces over the Euphrates River when the U.S. Army siezed a
bridge in Al Hindiyah, Iraq Monday, March 31, 2003. The Army's
Task Force 4-64, part of the 3rd Infantry Division, took the
strategic bridge in its move north towards Baghdad. The woman,
who was near a dead civilian man, was bleeding and apparently
shot in the buttock. (AP Photo/John
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