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Monday, March  31, 2003  10:42:12 p.m

U.S. troops battle Iraqis south of Baghdad

BAGHDAD - U.S. forces battled Iraqi fighters south of Baghdad and pummeled the capital from the air on Monday in a marked intensification of the 12-day-old war to topple President Saddam Hussein.

A thunderous artillery barrage opened up on the city's southern outskirts as warplanes screamed low over the Iraqi capital, a Reuters correspondent in the center said.

At least one American soldier was killed in one of several firefights around towns and river crossings in the south.

The latest military operations indicated U.S. commanders were determined to take the fight to Iraqi militiamen harrying their advance, while hitting regular troops and Republican Guard units blocking routes to Baghdad.

Bombs and missiles shook the heart of the capital, knocking local television briefly off the air after America's top soldier vowed to "draw the noose tighter" around Baghdad.

But General Richard Myers, head of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, signaled there would be no early ground assault on Baghdad. "We'll be patient," he said in Washington.

A cruise missile hit the Information Ministry in Baghdad in the second night strike on the building in three days. State television broadcasts began four hours later than usual.

At daybreak, two blasts hit a presidential palace used by Saddam's son Qusay, who commands the elite Republican Guard.

Planes pounded the capital's southern outskirts in the morning, apparently aiming at Republican Guard defenses.

U.S. forces may not try to storm Baghdad until they have disabled its defenses from the air and secured long supply lines against attacks by Iraqi fighters in a string of southern towns.

American units battled Iraqi fighters on the Euphrates river near the site of ancient Babylon on Monday in what appeared to be the closest the land war has yet come to the capital.

On a front about 70 miles south of Baghdad, U.S. forces said many Iraqis and at least one American were killed in a battle near Hilla. A separate fight erupted near a bridge over the Euphrates at Hindiya, just 50 miles from Baghdad.

A joint venture of TODAY newspaper and ABS-CBN Interactive

Addressing stuff floating out there
There is stuff floating around in the swimming pool of public opinion that ought be in a toilet instead. That stuff has gotta be addressed before it is mistaken for a bar of Baby Ruth, with which it bears an uncanny resemblance, and someone takes a bite of it. One of them is what to call it. Only ABS-CBN has had the mental honesty to call this war as it can only be seen: an “Attack on Iraq.”

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