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.
In the closest ground fighting yet to Saddam's seat of power,
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
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. A telephone
office was struck later in the day, Iraqis said.
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 Arab volunteers willing to
carry out suicide bombings.
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 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 as soldiers in Saddam's army, and
constant scrutiny by security squads. Deserters who are captured
face execution. There has been a slight increase in the number of
deserters since the U.S. bombing began, said Barham Salih, prime
minister of the Kurdish government in northern Iraq that is allied
with the Americans.
"The Iraqi military establishment has suffered a serious blow,"
Salih said. "There is no real fighting being conducted ... The Iraqi
military is caught in a difficult situation, between allied
bombardment on the one hand and Saddam's death squads on the
In south-central Iraq on Sunday, the Army's 82nd Airborne
Division killed about 100 "regime terror squad members" and captured
about 50 Iraqi militants in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Najaf and
another nearby town, Central Command said. It did not further
identify the "terror squads."
It was unclear whether U.S. forces would attempt to capture
Najaf, a city of 300,000, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, 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
Coalition forces are also 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
Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, a spokesman for Central Command, said
residents of Basra were providing information about Saddam loyalists
in the city, but there were still areas "under the boot of the Iraqi
"We wouldn't say that Basra is completely under coalition
control," he said.
British forces also discovered a cache of arms and explosives at
a school in the southern port city 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.
|An explosion is seen in the
desert as U.S. bomb disposal experts destroy ammunition
abandoned by Iraqi soldiers in Umm Qsar, southern Iraq, in
this March 30 photo made available Monday March 31, 2003. More
than 3,000 lbs(1,634 Kg) of ammunition, mines and missiles
were disposed of. The port city of Umm Qsar is key to the
coalition getting humanitarian aid and military supplies into
Iraq. (AP Photo/Alan
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