Click Here!    
Good Morning America World News Tonight 20/20 Primetime Nightline WNN This Week
March 29, 2003

A soldier with A Company 3rd Battalion 7th Infantry Regiment, part of the 3rd Infantry Division, walks through the desert near Karbala in central Iraq Thursday, March 27, 2003. (John Moore/AP Photo)
Big Battles Ahead
U.S. Troops Expecting Showdown Just Outside Baghdad

B A G H D A D, Iraq, March 27 — Some U.S. forces on the way to Baghdad may be just miles away from a major battle with one group of Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard troops.

Print This Page
Email This Page
See Most Sent
• EXCLUSIVE: Blair Says No Surprises in Iraq
• U.S. Losing Battle for Arab Public Opinion
• Military Spouses Finds Ways to Stay in Touch
• Extended Iraq Coverage
• Iraq: Special Report
• Country Profile: Iraq
• Interactive: Map of Baghdad
• Q&A: Military Analyst John Hillen
• Share Your Thoughts on War in Iraq

U.S. troops are preparing for a confrontation with one of the divisions of the Republican Guard near the Shiite Muslim holy city of Karbala, some 60 miles from Baghdad, U.S. officials told ABCNEWS' John McWethy. The battle, sources said, could be imminent.

A line of Republican Guard divisions stretches from Karbala to the city of Al Kut, forming a wall between coalition forces and Baghdad, Pentagon officials said. The Army's 3rd Infantry Division — which is 50 miles from Baghdad — is preparing for a confrontation as well.

According to ABCNEWS' Ted Koppel, who is embedded with the unit, intelligence reports indicate that perhaps as many as 1,000 Iraqi troops may be coming down the Euphrates River on boats and the 3rd Infantry Division is expecting an attack. Thirty-two Apache Longbow helicopters are said to be nearby and ready to provide air support.

Sources also said the 101st Airborne Division and its Apache helicopters were moving to a secret location deep within Iraq so it could participate in the ultimate battle for Baghdad. If another large U.S. force is needed, the 4th Infantry Division would be summoned. Officials said those troops are on the way to Kuwait but would not be fully ready for battle for at least a month.

Skies Clear; Fighting to Increase

As Marines and Army units moved forward, they continued to face scattered attacks, U.S. officials said, as part of Saddam's strategy to stop coalition momentum toward the capital. The blinding sandstorms that had hindered progress cleared up and paved the way for the resumption of air-support missions.

About 100 miles south of the capital, the 5th Marine Expeditionary Force used mortars to attack Iraqi holdouts who had been firing at Marine units moving north, reported ABCNEWS' Bob Woodruff, who is embedded with the force. With air power back up, the Marines have been able to move much more quickly, he said.

And near Al Kut, southeast of Baghdad, the 1st Marine Division came under Iraqi artillery, mortar and small-arms fire, and was forced to turn back and use a different route, said ABCNEWS' Mike Cerre, who is with the unit.

Update 7 p.m. ET: Coalition forces parachuted into northeastern Iraq and continue toward Baghdad from the south. (

Continued Attacks in the South

In an area east of the town of Najaf, the 5th Armored Corps was attacked by "vehicle-mounted irregulars," Central Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said today. He said coalition forces defeated the attack with no casualties.

Intense fighting also continued in and around the town of Nasiriyah, where about 30 Marines were injured by friendly fire, ABCNEWS' John Berman reported. The Marines had spread out throughout the city and set up defensive strongholds. They had adopted a new approach toward handling surrenders since several troops were wounded in the town Sunday during a phony surrender.

"The policy right now is to question almost everyone who comes close to the Marines," Berman said. "Most civilians are let go but several hundred prisoners have been taken."

The Baath Party intelligence headquarters that the Marines overtook in the city Wednesday has yielded information that could be useful to U.S. troops: a terrain model, a detailed map of the city and boxes of American ammunition. The Marines, Berman reported, think the boxes of ammunition might have been taken from an Army convoy that Iraqis seized Sunday.

Efforts to establish a U.S. air base in southern Iraq have met with stubborn resistance from Iraqi fighters. An Air Force convoy to the facility was stalled by heavy gunfire, mines and booby traps, and planes coming in to the base were taking a lot of surface-to-air fire.

In southern Iraq, British forces continued to face "stiff opposition" from Iraqi paramilitaries and regular forces in and around Basra, British Air Marshal Bryan Burridge told reporters at Central Command in Doha, Qatar.

One soldier said their goal was to oust the regime in Basra and hope the rest of the city would fall afterwards.

"The aim of this operation was to try and take out the leadership and so if the brain of the operation is gone, the other parts of it may crumble," said Maj. Johnny Bawron of the 7th Armored Brigade.

British commanders said they had struck a convoy of Iraqi units traveling south from Basra, destroying 19 tanks. The units were believed to be heading southeast from Basra toward the Al Faw Peninsula.

The paramilitaries, who are loyal to Saddam, were rounding up the regular troops and forcing them to fight, sometimes by holding guns to the heads of their family members, Burridge said.

In the Persian Gulf, allied minesweepers worked to expand a newly cleared channel to the port of Umm Qasr for shipments of aid. The British ship Sir Galahad was waiting offshore with 200 tons of food, medicine and water for Iraqi civilians in Basra and elsewhere.

Two humanitarian convoys reached the southern cities of Safwan and Umm Qasr with food and water, U.S. officials said today.

Iraq's vice president warns that the car bomb attack that killed four U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint is "just the beginning."

President Bush says coalition forces are "now fighting the most desperate units" of the Iraqi army.

The U.S. stops Tomahawk cruise missile launches against Iraq over Saudi Arabia because several missilies have landed on Saudi territory.

Remains of four U.S. servicemen are found at Nasiriyah.

An Iraqi official says Iraqi lawyers are preparing to sue President Bush as a "war criminal."

New Explosions Rock Baghdad

As the fighting continued south of Baghdad, explosions rocked the Iraqi capital late tonight. Large billows of smoke and fire rose above the city. There were reports that buildings close to the Old Palace compound near central Baghdad were hit by airstrikes.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf was talking to Abu Dhabi television from the roof of a building in Baghdad when he heard the explosions. He moved away and said, "Can you hear this? … This is not frightening anybody." Al-Sahaf said a smoking building that was being shown on Abu Dhabi TV had been struck by coalition forces for a fourth time.

Iraq's defense minister, Sultan Hashim Ahmed, told a news conference that Iraqi troops were prepared and that a battle for Baghdad would be decided in house-to-house combat within the city.

"We set up our [main] defenses in Baghdad. It will be no surprise that in five to 10 days they will be able to encircle all our positions in Baghdad. They have the capability to do so," Ahmed said. "The enemy must come inside Baghdad, and that will be its grave. We feel that this war must be prolonged so the enemy pays a high price."

The tension between Iraq and the United States also extended to the United Nations today. U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte walked out during a speech by the Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri, who accused the United States of trying to exterminate Iraqis.

"I did sit through quite a long part of what he had to say, but I'd heard enough," Negroponte said.

Iraqi Retreat in the North

Iraqi forces began withdrawing from positions on the edge of the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq after Kurdish fighters pushed beyond their territory into Iraq, and American paratroopers landed in the region.

ABCNEWS' Charles Glass said Iraqis had abandoned their positions near the town of Chamchamal in northwestern Iraq. On Wednesday, Glass said, between 200 and 300 Iraqis were in hilltop positions around Chamchamal; by this evening, there were none. The apparently retreating Iraqi forces, Glass said, had not been engaged by Kurdish fighters, and there were no coalition forces in the immediate area.

The road west from Chamchamal leads to the oil hub of Kirkuk, where Iraqi forces are known to have established a strong defense. The retreating Iraqis may have been ordered to help prepare to defend Kirkuk, Glass said.

Glass said it was not clear if the Iraqis abandoning their positions were regular members of the Iraqi military. The Iraqi fighters — some 200 to 300 men — had been in the hilltops only one night before. In their hasty retreat, they left behind light weaponry, including rocket-propelled grenade launchers and rifles.

The development came just hours after 1,000 paratroopers from the 173rd U.S. Airborne Brigade dropped into Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq late Wednesday and early today, at an airstrip outside the town of Bashur, 30 miles south of the Turkish border. They set up airfield operations to support follow-up forces.

Bush, Blair Split on Post-Saddam Plans

Meanwhile, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair met at Camp David in Maryland today to discuss plans for a post-Saddam Iraq — a divisive issue between the two allies.

The White House has drawn up a plan for American officials to run Iraq, with U.N. involvement, while Blair wants the United Nations to have a leading if not controlling role in rebuilding Iraq.

"No doubt, the United Nations has got to be closely involved in this process," Blair said at a news conference. He conceded that details of a new Iraqi government had not been resolved.

Both coalition leaders reiterated their confidence in the war effort, while refusing to predict how long the fighting would continue. They said victory would remain the focus of the war, not a timetable.

"This isn't a matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory," Bush said. "And the Iraqi people have got to know that. They've got to know that they will be liberated and Saddam Hussein will be removed, no matter how long it takes."

ABCNEWS' Richard Engel in Baghdad, Tim Scheld in Qatar, and John McWethy, Lisa Sylvester, John Cochran, Brian Hartman, Terry Moran and Martha Raddatz in Washington contributed to this report.

• Major Battles Expected Outside Baghdad
• Iraqi Family Caught in Crossfire
• Biochem Threat Takes a Toll
• Iraq General Could Launch Chemical Attacks
• Blair: There Has Been No Surprises in Iraq
Extended Iraq Coverage

Search Now:
In Association with


Copyright © 2003 ABCNEWS Internet Ventures.

Family of sites:        ABC Family        GO Mail