March 31 —
U.S.-led troops fought pitched battles with Saddam Hussein's
Republican Guard within 50 miles of the capital Monday as coalition
warplanes pounded the city and dozens of other Iraqi positions in
advance of the battle for Baghdad. One U.S. soldier was killed in
fierce fighting for control of the south-central city of Najaf.
In the closest ground fighting yet to Saddam's seat of power in
Baghdad, U.S. troops with the 3rd Infantry Division pushed into the
Euphrates River town of Hindiyah on Monday. Iraqi soldiers fired
from behind brick walls and hedges with small arms and
rocket-propelled grenades, and U.S. troops returned fire with 25mm
cannon and machine guns.
At least 35 Iraqis were killed and U.S. forces captured several
dozen others who identified themselves as members of the Republican
Guard Saddam's best-trained and best-equipped fighters. Their
uniforms carried the elite unit's triangular insignia and they said
they were with the Nebuchadnezzar Brigade, based in Saddam's
hometown of Tikrit.
Iraq remained defiant Monday; in Baghdad, Foreign Minister Naji
Sabri questioned the legitimacy of the strikes and called on
coalition soldiers to surrender.
"America and Britain have no choice but to surrender and
withdraw," Sabri said. "They will not leave our land safe and sound
if they continue to be stubborn in their aggression. We will
confront them with all we have ... No one will be safe."
"We will turn our deserts into a big graveyard for the Americans
and British," he said.
Coalition attacks on leadership and command and control centers
in Baghdad were carried out simultaneously by multiple B-1, B-2 and
B-52 bombers, according to U.S. Central Command. A 2 a.m. missile
strike on the Information Ministry touched off a fire at the nearby
28 April Shopping Center, named for Saddam's birthday.
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said state
media operations were "as good as before," after he and colleagues
put out the flames and the transmitters were repaired.
Iraqi TV aired a footage Monday night showing Saddam with his two
sons, Odai and Qusai, while chairing a meeting of his top military
commanders, according to Al Arabiya television. There was no way to
independently confirm when the video was shot.
Nearly all the telephone lines in the city of 5 million appeared
out after at least five telephone exchanges were struck by allied
bombings. But the power supply remained intact and street lights
came on Monday night.
With constant aerial bombardments on the capital and ground
forces advancing from the south, west and north, U.S. military
leaders defended the pace of the war effort Sunday, answering
criticism that they had underestimated the vigor of Iraqi
"We have the power to be patient in this, and we're not going to
do anything before we're ready," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
There is good reason for caution as troops face persistent danger
from plainclothes killers and warnings from Iraqi officials that
there will be more suicide attacks like the one that killed four
Americans on Saturday.
Sabri said more than 5,000 Arabs have come to Iraq to help attack
the invaders. Iraqi dissidents and Arab media have claimed that
Saddam has opened a training camp for volunteers willing to carry
out suicide bombings.
Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, said
such suicide attacks were "not a very effective military tactic" and
would not stop the U.S. advance on Baghdad.
In the north, U.S. aircraft pounded Iraqi positions near the town
of Kalak on Monday, aiding Kurdish fighters as they seized territory
from Saddam's fleeing troops. Under relentless attack, Iraqi forces
could be seen abandoning positions on a ridge west of the Great Zab
Far fewer Iraqi troops have been seen along the border of
Kurdish-controlled territory in recent days, which could indicate
government forces were pulling back toward Mosul, the largest city
in northern Iraq.
Iraqi deserters who have sought safety with Kurdish forces say
they endured backbreaking toil in Saddam's army and constant
scrutiny by security squads. Deserters who are captured face
execution. It's not clear how many have crossed over; some say it is
close to 500.
"We decided it was either die from an American bomb or be killed
by our own people," said one Iraqi foot soldier who staggered into
Kalak on Monday. "It was better to run and take our chances."
The deserter who offered only one name, Ali said soldiers sleep
in muddy burrows, are given meager rations and no information about
the war or any chance to call home. There is no medical help; the
wounded are left to die. He said morale was very low, and most are
not motivated to fight.
"We were not really mad at the Americans," he said. "We just want
to save our lives."
In Najaf, one soldier was killed Monday when Iraqi fighters
dressed as civilians opened fire with weapons mounted on vehicles, a
military spokesman said. Earlier, Capt. Kenric Bourne of the 101st
Airborne had said two soldiers were killed, but the Army later
corrected that report.
The 101st is fighting from the north and south of Najaf to try to
isolate the Shiite Muslim holy city of 300,000 people about 100
miles south of Baghdad.
A day earlier, the Army's 82nd Airborne Division killed about 100
"regime terror squad members" and captured about 50 Iraqi militants
in Najaf and another nearby town, Central Command said.
It was unclear whether U.S. forces would try to capture Najaf or
just surround it. There are too many Iraqi fighters to bypass them
or leave them unattended; they are a danger to supply lines on the
way to Baghdad.
Coalition forces also are leery of damaging Najaf's holy shrines,
which could anger Shiites in Iraq and elsewhere, most notably
In the southern city of Nasiriyah, where fighting has been fierce
for a week, Marines on Sunday secured buildings held by an Iraqi
infantry division that contained large caches of weapons and
chemical decontamination equipment.
Also Sunday, a Marine UH-1 Huey helicopter crashed at a refueling
point in southern Iraq, killing three aboard, said spokesman 1st Lt.
In Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, British forces continued to
skirmish with militiamen loyal to Saddam. As many as 1,000 Royal
Marines and supporting troops destroyed a bunker and several tanks
in a commando assault Sunday. About 30 Iraqis were captured and an
unknown number were killed. One Royal Marine was killed in the
Brooks, the Central Command spokesman, said residents of Basra
were providing information about Saddam loyalists in the city, but
there were still areas "under the boot of the Iraqi regime."
"We wouldn't say that Basra is completely under coalition
control," he said.
British forces also discovered arms and explosives at a school in
the southern port of Umm Qasr. Australian mine clearance experts
were called to dismantle the weaponry Monday, Australian defense
spokesman Brigadier Mike Hannan said.
Australian divers also are working to clear a sunken boat loaded
with mines discovered near the grain terminal in Umm Qasr, Hannan
Umm Qasr, Iraq's only deep-water port, is an important conduit
for humanitarian aid and military supplies, but shipments have been
delayed because of fears that waters may be mined.
In London, British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon said about 8,000
Iraqis are being held as prisoners of war twice then number reported
The International Red Cross said 15 staff members began visiting
thousands of POWs held by coalition forces in southern Iraq but it
has yet to receive word when it can see U.S. POWs taken by the Iraqi
military. The ICRC is holding talks on the issue with Iraqi
authorities, who have acknowledged capturing six Americans.
|A wounded Republican Guard
soldier receives treatment from a 1st Brigade Combat Team
medic for gunshot wounds to his chest and arms endured during
fighting that took place Wednesday, March 26, 2003 near Najaf,
Iraq. (AP Photo/Central
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