March 22 —
Leaving throngs of captured Iraqis behind them in razor-wire
pens, U.S. and British forces advanced toward southern Iraq's
largest city Saturday while air strikes pounded far-flung targets
across the country. The U.S. commander boasted that the overall
campaign will be "unlike any other in history."
U.S. aircraft bombed Iraqi tanks holding the bridges near Basra,
a city of 1.3 million, and Marines captured the airport after a
gunbattle. To the north, U.S. infantry and airborne units pushed
over the desert toward central Iraq on the second day of the ground
In Baghdad, explosions were heard throughout the day, but not at
the intensity of the fierce overnight bombardment that shattered one
of Saddam's palaces and destroyed the nine-story intelligence
"The lights stayed on in Baghdad, but the instruments of tyranny
are collapsing," said British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon.
West of Baghdad, along the Euphrates River, another of Saddam's
palaces was destroyed Saturday in a strike by warplanes from the USS
Theodore Roosevelt, according to a commander aboard the carrier in
the Mediterranean. And in far-north Iraq, U.S. forces fired Tomahawk
cruise missiles at suspected positions of the Ansar al Islam
guerrillas, which the United States accuses of ties to al-Qaida
At a briefing in Doha, Qatar, Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the
U.S.-led forces, said the assault on Iraq would be one of "shock,
surprise, flexibility," using munitions on a "scale never before
"Our troops are performing magnificently," said Franks, who
indicated that surrender negotiations with Iraqi military commanders
were in progress.
Franks said he had no idea where Saddam was at present. Regarding
weapons of mass destruction, the general said none had been located
by the invasion force thus far, but he voiced certainty that some
would be found as the troops advance.
Near Basra, Cobra attack helicopters, attack jets, tanks and 155
mm howitzers tried to clear the way for the troops headed up Highway
80 nicknamed the "Highway of Death" during the 1991 Gulf War, when
U.S. airstrikes destroyed an Iraqi military convoy using it to flee
Along the roadside, a few children waved; others patted their
stomachs or lifted their hands to their mouths, signaling
Left behind were large numbers of malnourished and overmatched
Iraqi soldiers who surrendered Friday. Among those giving up were
the commander and deputy commander of Iraq's 51st Infantry, the
highest-ranking Iraqi officials known to have surrendered thus
According to Hoon, most regular Iraqi troops have withdrawn from
Basra, but members of Saddam's security forces continued to defend
A British military spokesman, Lt. Col. Chris Vernon, said allied
forces hope to avoid bloody urban warfare and will not immediately
try to storm Basra. The allies hope that Basra's military and civil
leaders can gradually be persuaded to capitulate as they see
Saddam's regime losing power.
U.S. and British commanders said their troops captured many key
facilities in Iraq's southern oil fields, saving them from possible
sabotage and ensuring their use for postwar reconstruction. Only
nine oil wells were found to be ablaze far fewer than many officials
Adm. Michael Boyce, chief of the British defense staff, said
nearly all the oil and gas installations had been mined or
booby-trapped, indicating Saddam was "prepared to blow up his entire
Two U.S. Marines were killed in combat in the area Friday. One
U.S. Navy officer died Saturday along with six Britons when two
Royal Navy helicopters collided over the Persian Gulf.
U.S. intelligence officials remained uncertain whether Saddam
might have been wounded or even killed in the missile strike
Wednesday night that opened the war. In any case, said Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, "The regime is starting to lose
control of their country."
Iraqi officials claimed three people had been killed and more
than 200 injured in the bombardment of Baghdad. Iraqi TV said
Foreign Minister Naji Sabri sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan complaining that Americans targeted homes, schools,
mosques and churches.
Among those hospitalized with shrapnel wounds from the air
strikes were Amal Hassan Kamel and her 8-year-old son, Wa'ad, who
was crying for his father.
"The Americans have no conscience," Kamel said. "What have our
children done to deserve this?"
Yet despite the heavy overnight bombardment, there was more
traffic on the streets Saturday than at any time since the war
began, and more small shops and restaurants open. In contrast to
bombing campaigns of the 1991 Gulf War, all bridges across the
Tigris River were intact and the city's water and power supplies
Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf insisted that Iraqi
forces were putting up strong resistance in the south and inflicting
more casualties on the invaders than were being acknowledged in
Washington or London. He contended that the legions of surrendering
Iraqis were civilians, not soldiers.
In Japan, New Zealand, Bangladesh and other countries, anti-war
protests resumed Saturday, a day after violent protests in several
Middle Eastern countries. Gunfire killed three people outside the
U.S. Embassy in Yemen, where about 30,000 protesters assembled, and
about 10,000 protesters confronted riot police in Cairo, Egypt.
Anti-war demonstrators also marched through the streets of San
Francisco and other U.S. cities Friday. Smaller groups elsewhere
demonstrated in support of U.S. troops.
In an address at the Vatican, Pope John Paul II denounced the war
as a threat against the "fate of humanity."
|A coalition military convoy
heads north from Safwan, Iraq, Saturday, March 22, 2003.
U.S.-led bombing continued in Baghdad during daylight hours on
Saturday. (AP Photo/APTN)|
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