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March 22, 2003
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Smoking Ruins Reveal Scars of Iraq Battle
Smoking Remains of Vehicles and Abandoned Artillery Reveal the Scars of Iraq Battle

The Associated Press

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AZ ZUBAYR, Iraq March 22

Smoking husks of Iraqi military trucks pocked the road Saturday out of Az Zubayr, the scars of a fight between U.S. Marines and Iraqi forces that raged throughout the night in this southern Iraqi town.

Some rusty artillery pieces lay abandoned on the side of the road.

One charred flatbed truck, windows gone and tires reduced to black dust, was smoking. Its cargo of hundreds of Kalashnikov rifles were broken into pieces, their wood stocks shattered, their magazine clips strewn about the road.

The truck's batteries had already been removed by looters.

Farther down, the road was blocked by a truck that had been hauling an artillery piece until a tank shell crushed it. Another truck was in flames, its driver mostly burned to ashes.

In the distance, black smoke spewed from burning oil wells.

Marines took pictures of themselves with the vehicles.

An Iraqi man walking by took off his white head scarf and waved it at the Marines.

"We were tired and troubled by Saddam Hussein," said Sham Mohammad, a 25-year-old man from the town.

Mohammad said few civilians were hurt in the attack.

Iraqis began calmly looting what appeared to be government offices, stealing radios, metal bed frames and an air conditioner.

A line of Iraqis dragged filing cabinets down a roadside. Others pushed a military jeep out of a compound.

Some took Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades from destroyed vehicles. Marines made them dump the weapons in a pile by the road.

Five tanks sealed off the road that led to Basra, about 10 miles to the north, their turrets pointed in both directions.

Sgt. Travis Horner, who was in one of the tanks, said two cars that sped toward them with passengers waving their weapons. Tank crews, fearing a suicide mission, shot up the cars with 50 caliber machine gun fire, he said.

One of the cars was a sport utility vehicle with a heavy gun attached to the top.

Several civilian vehicles traveled back and forth across the road unmolested, but when a passenger bus tried to cross, the tank crews fired what appeared to be warning shots. The bus screeched to a halt and its passengers ran out.

The Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Regiment entered Iraq Friday morning and headed to the small town of Az Zubayr to take on Iraq's 32 Mechanized Infantry Brigade.

According to the Marines, 60 percent of the brigade had deserted before the Americans had even gotten here.

The remainder, about 300 people, fought from room to room in pockets of a dozen each against Marines scouring their barracks and headquarters.

By Friday evening, the Marines had mostly defeated the resisting force, though mop-up operations continued deep into the night, said Lt. Col. Michael Belcher, the commanding officer of the 3-7.

At about 2 a.m., the Marines ran into tanks, armored personnel carriers and infantry and destroyed the Iraqi vehicles using tank fire, Javelin missiles and TOW wire-guided missiles, Belcher said.

The Marines then took control of a concrete dam and bridge over the Shatt al-Basra River.

"They're opening the door to Baghdad," Belcher said.

Seven Marines were wounded Friday in two separate explosions. It was unclear whether the explosions came from Iraqi land mines or unexploded U.S. cluster bombs, Marine officials said.

The first happened when a Marine stepped out of his vehicle in a captured Iraqi artillery position that other Marines had been walking across for more than an hour. Seconds later a medic who came to assist him stepped on another explosive device.

The two men's wounds were serious but not life-threatening, Marine officials said. Five others were slightly injured.

It was unclear how many Iraqis died, but Belcher reported seeing Iraqi civilians covering bodies with blankets and sheets.

Some Iraqi soldiers greeted the Marines with white flags and were taken prisoner, Belcher said. Some of them told the troops where to find stashes of weapons, he said.

Marines found a supply of Iraqi gas masks. They captured the town's oil pumping station as well as a chemical plant they feared the Iraqis might explode to try to send a toxic cloud toward the troops.

Belcher said many of the Iraqi soldiers apparently shed their uniforms and melted into the local population, something Mohammad confirmed.

"At that point ... they've given up their will to fight," Belcher said. "Should they take up arms again they will become the enemy and we will fight them."

photo credit and caption:
Abandonned Iraqi artillery are scattered outside the southern Iraqi city of Basra, while oil pipelines burn in the backgroung Saturday, March 22, 2003. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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