April 2 —
Closing in on Baghdad itself, U.S. forces Wednesday seized a
bridge over the Tigris River and swept past battered Republican
Guard units. Soldiers on the front and relatives 6,000 miles away in
West Virginia rejoiced over the bold rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch
from captivity in an Iraqi hospital.
The Army's 3rd Infantry Division and the First Marine
Expeditionary Corps both reported breakthroughs as some units
entered the so-called "red zone" within 50 miles of the capital.
U.S. officials say Iraqi resistance will be most tenacious in this
zone and have warned of the possible use of chemical weapons.
In an attack launched at midnight, 3rd Infantry units surged past
the strategic city of Karbala, targeting an estimated 2,000
paramilitary fighters. Karbala, which sits on the main approach to
Baghdad from the southwest, was encircled and hit by night-long
bombardment from U.S. artillery and warplanes.
To the east, thousands of Marines were moving against the city of
Kut after capturing an important bridge over the Tigris River. The
fall of Kut would open up a key highway approach to Baghdad from the
The Republican Guard's Medina Division around Karbala and its
Baghdad Division around Kut are among the main military forces in
the way of an American advance on Baghdad. U.S. defense officials
say recent airstrikes and artillery barrages have reduced the
strength of both divisions by more than 50 percent.
"We are aware of where the Republican Guard was positioned; we
have engaged them and are into their area," said a U.S. Central
Command spokesman, Navy Capt. Frank Thorp. "The battle is being
waged and we are doing well."
The commander of British forces in Iraq, Air Marshal Brian
Burridge, confirmed that the latest assaults by his U.S. allies
marked the start of a momentous phase.
"This is certainly a decisive engagement in which we are now just
beginning with the Republican Guard," he said. "The point I would
make, though, is that decisive phases often take time. I wouldn't
want to give you the impression that within a day or two this is
going to be finished."
Baghdad again came under intense bombardment Wednesday, and again
the Iraqi government responded defiantly. Iraqi satellite television
broadcast a statement attributed to Saddam Hussein declaring that
"victory is at hand."
Saddam did not appear in person. U.S. officials say they are not
sure whether is he alive and well, wounded from an air strike on one
of his bunkers, or dead.
In addition to the reported successes on the front lines, U.S.
soldiers were elated by news that Lynch a prisoner of war from nine
days had been rescued by special forces from an Iraqi hospital near
Nasiriyah where she was being treated for injuries.
"I thought at first it was an April Fool's joke," said her
father, Greg Lynch Sr., of Palestine, W. Va. "I thought this was a
cruel joke. I can put up with most things, but not that. They
assured me, no, it's not a joke.
His 19-year-old daughter had been missing with 11 other U.S.
soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company. They were ambushed near
Nasiriyah after making a wrong turn during early fighting in the
invasion of Iraq. Five other members of her unit were later shown on
Iraqi television answering questions from their captors.
"We also have others, other POWs we are just as worried about,"
said U.S. Central Command spokesman Jim Wilkinson. "This is good
news today but we need a lot more good news."
Thorp said the rescue team retrieved 11 bodies from in and around
the Iraqi hospital. He said forensics experts would try to identify
the bodies, and determine if any were missing American soldiers.
Amid the elation over Lynch's rescue, sobering new details were
reported about an incident Monday in which members of an Iraqi
family were killed when U.S. soldiers opened fire on their vehicle
near a checkpoint.
A correspondent for the Knight Ridder Newspapers on Wednesday
quoted surviving family members as saying they had decided to leave
their village and flee toward U.S. lines because they thought a
leaflet dropped by American helicopters told them to "be safe."
Bakhat Hassan who said he lost two daughters, a son, his parents,
two older brothers, their wives and two nieces in the incident said
U.S. soldiers at an earlier checkpoint had waved them through. As
they approached another checkpoint 25 miles south of Karbala, they
waved again at the American soldiers. Those soldiers fired.
"I saw the heads of my two little girls come off," said Hassan's
wife, Lamea, 36.
U.S. officials originally gave the death toll as seven in the
incident, while reporters at the scene placed it at 10. Hassan's
father died at the Army hospital later; he said that made the toll
In southern Iraq, British forces continued to skirmish with Iraqi
defenders in the encircled city of Basra while hoping that civilians
turn against those paramilitary fighters.
"We're getting a lot of assistance from the local population now
but we're treading very carefully," Group Capt. Al Lockwood told Sky
News TV. "It's important to us that the civilian population is
protected and we reduce the damage to infrastructure as much as
|Aviation ordnancemen assigned to
the "Hunters" of Strike Fighter Squadron Two Zero One
(VFA-201) upload two Computer Guided Bomb Unit Twelve (GBU-12)
to an F/A-18C Hornet on the flight deck aboard USS Theodore
Roosevelt in the eastern Mediterranean sea, Sunday, March 31,
2003. The aircraft carrier is conducting missions in
supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. (AP Photo/Chris
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