WASHINGTON March 29 —
Some U.S. forces have paused on their push toward Baghdad, while
coalition airstrikes pounded Iraq's information ministry and a
meeting of paramilitary forces U.S. officials blame for
The U.S.-led coalition controls 35 percent to 40 percent of
Iraq's territory and 95 percent of its airspace, the Pentagon's top
But near the central Iraqi city of Najaf a suicide bomber killed
several Americans on Saturday at a highway checkpoint. An Army
officer said the driver of the car signaled for help and then
detonated explosives as the soldiers approached.
Meanwhile, American forces continued preparations for an expected
ferocious battle against Iraq's best-trained and best-equipped
troops: The Republican Guard forces arrayed outside Baghdad.
Airstrikes, including the first heavy combat from a helicopter unit
of the 101st Airborne, continued hammering at the elite Iraqi forces
to soften them up for the eventual ground campaign.
Some Marine units took a break on their push toward the Iraqi
capital Saturday in what commanders called an "operational pause."
The troops worked to secure their lines of communications and wait
for more of their comrades to catch up after heavier than expected
attacks along the way.
Fierce combat continued in the Euphrates River crossing city of
Nasiriyah, where Marines reported four troops missing Friday. U.S.
military convoys and aircraft faced frequent attacks by both Iraqi
troops and fighters in civilian clothes using rifles,
rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.
Eight Marines remained missing from a Sunday battle near
Nasiriyah in which Iraqi forces pretended to surrender but then
opened fire on approaching troops, the military said. At least nine
Marines were killed, officials said.
The Pentagon blames such attacks on Iraqi paramilitary forces
like the Fedayeen Saddam, which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld
calls "death squads." The military claimed a strike Friday on a
building in the southern city of Basra where about 200 such
paramilitaries had gathered.
The strike from two U.S. F-15s used bombs with a delayed fuse,
which explodes after it penetrates the building, to hit the target
without damaging a Christian church 300 yards away, a statement from
U.S. Central Command said.
The Army's 101st Airborne Division sent out AH-64 Apache
helicopters to attack Republican Guard positions south of Baghdad.
Officers at the scene said the helicopters destroyed tanks, armored
personnel carriers, other vehicles, a fuel depot and a
Two of the attack helicopters were damaged when they made hard
landings at their temporary base in the Iraqi desert, but no one was
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers insisted Friday
at a Pentagon briefing that fighting along key U.S. supply lines was
not militarily significant. He and Rumsfeld said the push to Baghdad
would not be derailed.
Rumsfeld hinted the United States had operatives working inside
Baghdad and other Iraqi cities.
"We have people inside talking to people, dealing with people,
arranging things," Rumsfeld said in response to a question about the
mood of Baghdad's 5 million residents.
To underscore the message that the war is going well, Myers
showed a map of Iraq detailing about 40 percent of the country that
he said was no longer under Saddam's control.
The areas included Kurdish zones in the north which have been
autonomous since the early 1990s, a large swath of Iraq's western
desert where special operations forces have been hunting for
missiles, and a triple-peaked area of southern Iraq where the Army
and Marines are pushing toward the capital.
The U.S.-led coalition also has air supremacy over about 95
percent of Iraq, Myers said. The exception: The capital and Saddam's
hometown of Tikrit, where surface-to-air missile sites and other air
defenses have not been completely knocked out.
Coalition forces have fired more than 650 Tomahawk cruise
missiles and dropped more than 5,000 precision-guided bombs on Iraq
since the war started, Myers said.
A Tomahawk strike hit Iraq's Information Ministry headquarters in
downtown Baghdad early Saturday, Central Command said. Footage from
video cameras stationed on the building showed a bright flash and a
thunderous explosion that shook masonry off nearby buildings. At
midmorning, however, the ministry building appeared intact.
In Kuwait, officials said Iraq fired a missile of its own into a
Kuwait City shopping mall. The missile was the first to hit the city
since the United States launched its invasion of neighboring Iraq on
British and U.S. planes flew more than 1,500 missions over Iraq
Friday, including 700 strike sorties, a military official said. The
vast majority of those were bombing and strafing in support of
coalition ground forces, the official said.
Also, two U.S. Navy F/A-18s bombed an al-Samoud missile battery
about 25 miles northwest of Basra on Friday, U.S. Central Command
The coalition has used that air superiority to pound the
Republican Guard, particularly elements of the Medina and Hammurabi
divisions stationed to the north, west and south of Baghdad.
Myers said Republican Guard units defending the city were "dug
"They could be consolidating to make a defense. It doesn't make
any difference. The outcome is certain," said the Joint Chiefs
chairman. He showed overhead photos that he said showed Iraqi
military units possibly of the Republican Guard were trying to hide
tanks and other military equipment in a residential neighborhood
south of Baghdad.
Up north, airstrikes have focused not only on Iraqi military
targets but on the positions of Ansar al-Islam, a radical armed
group the United States says is linked to the al-Qaida terrorist
network. U.S. forces used an airfield secured by members of the
Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade to bring in more supplies and troops
for a northern front.
|Reporters, at bottom right,
cover the launch of a U.S. F-14 Tomcat from the flight deck of
the USS Harry S. Truman heading for a mission over Iraq,
Saturday, March 29, 2003. As some units on the field have been
ordered an operational pause for a chance to resupply,
U.S.-led coalition aircraft and missile strikes continue over
Iraq in operation "Iraqi Freedom." (AP Photo/Markus
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