HIGHWAY 80 IN SOUTHERN IRAQ March 22 —
U.S. and British forces moved in on Iraq's second-largest city
Saturday, taking its airport and a bridge while Saddam Hussein's
security forces resisted with artillery and heavy machine guns.
U.S. forces captured the airport in north Basra after
encountering resistance from Iraqi troops in armored personnel
carriers, said Marine Lt. Eric Gentrup.
"There was a decent amount of resistance," Gentrup said.
The Americans had taken one of several bridges leading into the
city, but Iraqis still held others, British officials said. The
British took charge of fighting there Saturday as U.S. Marines
The plan is not to storm the city but to force an Iraqi surrender
and avoid bloody urban warfare.
"This is about liberation, not occupation," top U.S. Gen. Tommy
Franks said Saturday of the Basra operation.
Warplanes from the USS Kitty Hawk resumed bombing missions
Saturday in support of Army and Marine forces near Basra, after
flying more than 60 missions overnight. None of those planes dropped
bombs, officers said.
Rear Adm. Barry Costello, the commander of the aircraft carrier
USS Constellation's battle group, said planes from his ship flew 74
support missions for Basra. It was not immediately clear of those
planes bombed any positions.
"It gets you excited, I mean, people are trying to kill us ... so
I was a little anxious," said Cmdr. Mark Hubbard, of Lemoore, Calif.
"I think you'd be a fool not to be afraid. But controlled fear is
your friend, uncontrolled fear is your enemy."
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army's V Corps took Nassiriyah, northwest of
Basra, said U.S. Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, a spokesman for Central
At Nassiriyah, the commander and deputy commander of Iraq's 51st
Infantry were among those who surrendered Friday night, becoming the
highest-ranking Iraqi officials to give up, Thorp said.
The number of those who have surrendered is "in the thousands"
and coalition forces have taken about 1,500 POWs, he said.
Just outside Nassiriyah, traffic along the U.S. military supply
route flatbeds, Humvees and other vehicles was so heavy it sometimes
came to a standstill.
The massive jam extended back to the Kuwait border, where much of
the allied forces waited Saturday in long columns of vehicles to
cross into Iraq.
Soldiers eyed the gridlock, which could present a lethal
situation if hostile forces opened fire.
"It would be tragic if the Iraqis had some artillery," said 2nd
Lt. Sarah Skinner of Vassar, Mich., a platoon leader.
A young Bedouin dressed in traditional black robes blew a kiss to
the convoy as it crawled north.
Meanwhile, south of Basra, American and British forces came under
artillery fire Saturday as they moved up Highway 80.
Some Iraqi soldiers surrendered on the highway while others held
out against the U.S. and British convoy grinding past blazing oil
pipelines and concrete barracks.
Iraqi forces fired artillery toward U.S. troops but missed. Cobra
attack helicopters flew overhead through clouds of smoke, as
coalition forces moved within miles of Basra.
"There's still a little bit of fighting but we're getting there,"
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said in London that regular
Iraqi forces have withdrawn from Basra but elements of Saddam
Hussein's security forces continued to resist.
Hoon said Saddam's regime was crumbling under the pressure of a
huge air assault. "As last night's dramatic television coverage
showed, the lights stayed on in Baghdad, but the instruments of
tyranny are collapsing," Hoon said.
Hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles lined Highway 80 nicknamed
the "Highway of Death" during the 1991 Gulf War when U.S. airstrikes
wiped out an Iraqi military convoy fleeing Kuwait.
The roadside was dotted with Iraqi tanks blackened by direct hits
on their dirt bunkers. White flags flew over some deserted,
dilapidated barracks, including one where a white cloth had been
hung over a picture of Saddam Hussein.
Other barracks still needed to be cleared. U.S. Marines used
amphibious assault vehicles to surround clusters of low, crude
concrete buildings and shell nearby tanks.
At one of the barracks, Iraqis emerged to surrender, stumbling
across a rutted field clutching bags of belongings. As Marines moved
toward them, the Iraqis knelt in the field with their arms crossed
behind their heads.
Elsewhere groups of Iraqi men in civilian clothes stood near the
highway. Allied officers believed they were Iraqi soldiers who had
fled their barracks and changed from their uniforms before Marines
and British forces arrived.
To the rear, other allied troops took custody of prisoners who
surrendered Friday, including members of Iraq's 51st Infantry
Division. Captives were placed in improvised pens of razor wire,
watched over by Marines. Their partly disassembled rifles were piled
beside the road.
The surrendering soldiers were not the elite Republican Guard
that anchors Saddam's defense. They seemed to be underfed, ragtag
fighters, many of them draftees in T-shirts.
Elsewhere in Iraq, the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division surged
100 miles through the desert to the Euphrates River, heading
straight for the Republican Guard around Baghdad.
The Army's 101st Airborne Division also joined the fight. Its 3rd
Brigade was making a marathon trip through the desert, with soldiers
forced to wear goggles and endure dust in their ready-to-eat
"With all the dust coming in it's hard to breathe," said Spc.
Gregory Pagan, 26, of Overbrook, Kan., riding in the back of a
|A U.S. Humvee passes by a
burning Iraqi armored personnel carrier near the southern
Iraqi city of Basra, Saturday, March 22, 2003. (AP
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This
material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or