March 24 —
American-led forces advanced to within 50 miles of Baghdad on
Monday, while warplanes and attack helicopters targeted Republican
Guard units guarding the capital. An Army helicopter went down, and
Iraq claimed capture of two pilots.
Five days into the war to topple Saddam Hussein's regime, strong
Iraqi resistance kept British and American troops from entering the
southern city of Basra.
"Be patient, brothers, because God's victory will be ours soon,"
Saddam exhorted his country in a television appearance Monday.
Despite Saddam's defiant pose, a military barracks in the
northern part of the country was bombed, and Baghdad fell under
renewed air attack, as well. Iraqis set up mortar positions south of
the city and piled sandbags around government buildings and other
strategic locations, in evident anticipation of a battle to
Military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said
heavy emphasis was given in the day's bombing runs to the Republican
Guard units that defend Baghdad.
At the Pentagon, Major Gen. Stanley McChrystal said U.S.
helicopters have begun attacking Saddam's Republican Guard forces
arrayed around Baghdad. Asked about ground forces, McChrystal said,
"We have not gotten into direct firefights with Republican Guard
But in the world's first war to be covered live on television,
the news and images of American and British setbacks competed with
pictures of battlefield successes.
Iraqi television showed pictures of one American helicopter in a
grassy field, men in Arab headdresses brandishing automatic rifles
as they did a victory dance around the aircraft. Hours later, Iraqi
television showed two men it said made up the crew.
"We have a two-man crew missing," confirmed Gen. Tommy Franks,
the U.S. war commander. But he denied Iraqi reports that the craft
had been shot down by farmers, and that two choppers had been
Franks told reporters that 3,000 Iraqi prisoners had been taken.
But he and other U.S. officials were more concerned with the fate of
a handful of American POWs whose convoy was ambushed in the Iraqi
desert over the weekend.
A U.S. military transport arrived in Germany, bearing some of the
wounded from a weekend attack on the 101st Airborne Division. An
American GI is in custody in the incident.
And in London, the Ministry of Defense announced the first
British combat death, a soldier who fell in fighting near Az Zubayr
in southern Iraq, near the city of Basra.
Two other British troops were missing after their convoy was hit
by continuing resistance in southern Iraq.
It was a fresh reminder that even in areas where American and
British forces thought they had control, resistance continued to pop
"This is not a video game where everything is clear and neat and
tidy," said British spokesman Lt. Col. Ronnie McCourt. "Some enemy
who feel that they want to carry on fighting will inevitably do
Basra, Iraq's second largest city, provided evidence of that, as
Iraqis battled British forces on the outskirts of town. Commanders
held off storming the city, hoping its Iraqi defenders would give
up, but they have held firm.
In Washington, President Bush invited congressional leaders to
the White House. His administration prepared a formal request for as
much as $80 billion to fight the war, provide humanitarian aid to
Iraq and protect the United States from further terrorist
Bush also talked with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone.
Spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president was "very concerned that
there are reports of ongoing cooperation to Iraqi military forces
being provided by a Russian company that produces GPS jamming
The Army's 3rd Infantry Division was responsible for the deepest
known penetration in force of the Iraqi interior, a two-day dash
that brought it toward Karbala, about 50 miles south of Baghdad.
Some Iraqis waved or gave a thumbs-up as the convoy passed, while
others stood stoically.
The advance of long columns of thousands of vehicles was aided by
heavy air protection that wiped out a column of Iraqi armor at one
point and sent some of Saddam's outer defenses withdrawing toward
the capital. The convoy passed bombed anti-aircraft guns, empty
foxholes and berms dug for tanks that had been abandoned.
But the advance was stalled for a time, at least, by the weather,
an afternoon sandstorm that blew out of the desert.
The bombing in the north was carried out against a military
barracks close to the line that separates Iraqi-held territory from
the Kurdish-held region.
"People are evacuating, but not because of the bombing. They are
afraid Saddam will respond with chemical weapons," said Ahmad
Qafoor, a school teacher.
There was no evidence of that as yet.
But military commanders said American forces were still
evaluating a plant captured by U.S. troops, and pursuing leads from
captured Iraqis and documents in their search for weapons of mass
Saddam wore a military uniform in Monday's televised appearance,
looking more composed than he did last week during his first words
to the country since the war began.
In Washington, a senior U.S. official speaking on condition of
anonymity said U.S. intelligence had determined Saddam's speech was
recorded. However, it is unclear when it was taped. American
officials repeatedly have said they believe Saddam may have been
killed or injured in a missile strike against a leadership compound
the United States launched last Wednesday night.
Saddam's rhetoric was as fierce as always. "These are your days,
you Iraqis are in line with what God has ordered you to do, to cut
their throats and even their fingers," he said, urging his country
to repel American and British forces.
At the United Nations, Secretary General Kofi Annan warned of a
humanitarian crisis in Basra and said "urgent measures" were needed
to restore electricity and water supplies.
|U.S. Army infantrymen discuss
their next mission while in the desert near Karbalah, Iraq
Monday, March 24, 2003. The soldiers are with Company A 3rd
Battalion 7th Infantry Regiment and is part of the 3rd
Infantry Division advancing further into Iraq. (AP Photo/John
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