SOUTHERN IRAQ March 21 —
Hordes of Iraqi soldiers, underfed and overwhelmed, surrendered
Friday in the face of a state-of-the-art allied assault.
These were not the fabled and well-fed Republican Guardsmen who
anchor Saddam's defense these were a rag-tag army, many of them
draftees, often in T-shirts. Their handguns and small arms could
accomplish little against opposing forces wielding 21st century
"I kind of felt sorry for them," said one U.S. military official,
speaking on condition of anonymity. "A lot of them looked hungry.
They haven't been fed in a while."
He spoke after U.S. Marines and their allies took control of the
strategic port city of Umm Qasr and with it, Iraq's access to the
Persian Gulf. The out-classed Iraqis fought with small arms,
pistols, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
Authorities said the nation's southern oil fields would be
secured by day's end.
At the same time, the Army's 3rd Infantry Division surged 100
miles into Iraq. Much more was to come an extraordinary land-based
armada of allied weaponry and troops was caught in an enormous
traffic jam in Kuwait, ready to strike when it could cross the
There were pockets of resistance, some of it stiff; a second
combat death was reported Friday, a member of the 1st Marine
Expeditionary Force who was wounded while battling a platoon of
But often, the opponent advanced with a white flag in hand,
instead of a rifle.
Within a few hours of crossing into southern Iraq, the 15th
Marine Expeditionary Unit encountered 200 or more Iraqi troops
seeking to surrender. One group of 40 Iraqis marched down a two-lane
road toward the Americans and gave up.
Another group of Iraq soldiers alongside a road waved a white
flag and their raised hands, trying to flag down a group of
journalists so they could surrender.
Forty to 50 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to a Marine traffic
control unit. They came down the road in the open back of a troop
vehicle, their hands in the air for about a mile before they reached
Their decision to give up the fight was not unexpected, or
unprompted; for months, Iraq has been bombarded with messages from
the Americans, urging its soldiers to refuse to fight.
At a Pentagon news conference Friday, Secretary of Defense Donald
H. Rumsfeld called upon Iraq's military to "do the honorable thing,
stop fighting that you may live to enjoy a free Iraq, where you and
your children can grow and prosper."
How many Iraqis had surrendered? No one knew for sure. Rumsfeld
said he knew of a few hundred, and others who just quit fighting. "A
lot of people just leave and melt into the countryside," he
Rumsfeld said the allied forces were advancing, and now
controlled "a growing portion of the country of Iraq." The captured
territory included two airfields in western Iraq.
The ground advance into Iraq appeared to be moving faster than
planned. Units reached locations in Iraq 24 hours ahead of their
expected arrival time, according to several reporters attached to
The Army's 3rd Infantry Division was following a path through the
desert west of the Euphrates River, avoiding populated areas. It
appeared that strategists sought to minimize civilian and military
casualties by flanking most Iraqi units, and going straight for the
Republican Guard around Baghdad.
The bulk of the allied force hadn't even entered Iraq yet.
There was a huge traffic jam at the border thousands of vehicles
parked in parallel rows, nothing but columns of trucks, humvees, oil
tankers, flatbed tucks, armored vehicles and vehicles of every
stripe, from horizon to horizon. The traffic was so bad that it took
6 1/2 hours for one unit to go 51 miles, in swirling dust.
Crossing the border Friday morning, the 3rd Battalion of the 7th
Marine Infantry faced little resistance. Tanks attached to the
battalion attacked five Iraqi tanks just north of the border,
destroying them easily.
The battalion passed the brown, stone rubble of several buildings
it had shelled just minutes before the air still held the acrid
smell of explosives and at least five enormous pictures of a smiling
Saddam Hussein, some with him wearing a robe, others with him in a
headscarf, that stood intact at the border post.
They reached the town of Safwan, where speakers warned Iraqis to
stay out of the Marines' way. A few ventured outside: A man on the
side of the road bearing a white flag. Another in a long, gray robe,
prostrate on the ground, apparently in prayer.
"I never thought I'd see this place," said Cpl. Matt Nale, 31, of
Seattle, Wash. He stuck his head out of the top of an Amtrack
armored personnel carrier, looked around, smiled and repeatedly
nodded with wonder.
The Marines later took control of positions mostly abandoned by
Iraq's 32nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, blowing up a few abandoned
tanks and armored personnel carriers and engaging in short
firefights with a few Iraqi soldiers who had stayed back to defend
their headquarters and barracks or were unable to flee in time.
|U.S. Marines with India Co., 3rd
Batt., 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, take Iraqi prisoners
after engaging in a gun battle with them near Az Bayer, Iraq
on Friday, March 21, 2003. (AP Photo/Laura
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