|1.30pm update |
Baghdad hit by new air strikes
· US Marines raid 'Chemical Ali' base
· British soldiers condemn 'cowboy' US pilot
· Three US troops die in helicopter crash
Mark Oliver, Simon Jeffery and agencies
Monday March 31, 2003
Iraqis flee Basra across one of the city's bridges manned by British soldiers.
Photo: Dan Chung
An artillery barrage today opened up on the outskirts of Baghdad as warplanes launched bombing raids on the Iraqi capital.
The latest wave of attacks followed early morning raids targeting a presidential palace used by one of Saddam Hussein's sons, Qusay Hussein, and the Iraqi information ministry
Two direct hits were also registered on the city centre telephone exchange, flattening the six-storey building.
Reuters correspondents in Baghdad said that the sound of the explosions appeared to be coming from the west of the city, towards Saddam International airport.
There were also reports of explosions to the south.
"There's a new air raid on. I've heard six very loud explosions in the city, and the planes are screaming very low overhead," said Samia Nakhoul.
The last 24 hours have seen some of the most intense bombardment since the war began, as US and British aircraft attacked Republican Guard positions protecting the approaches to Baghdad.
There were also reports of heavy bombing in Kirkuk and Mosul.
Meanwhile, at least one US soldier was today killed in fighting against Iraqi forces about 70 miles (110km) south of Baghdad. A US officer said that at least one soldier died in the fighting near the town of Imam Aiyub, south of the city of Hilla.
US forces were firing artillery towards Imam Aiyub, and Iraqi forces were hitting back with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, reports said.
Marines raid 'Chemical Ali' base
US marines today launched a dawn raid on a southern Iraqi town following a tip-off that the Iraqi general known as "Chemical Ali" could be using it as a base to orchestrate guerrilla attacks.
The marines went into Shatra, north of Nassiriya, on a mission to kill senior Iraqi officials believed to be hiding there, including General Ali Hassan al-Majid, according to Reuters.
Gen Majid, who gained his grisly sobriquet after using gas attacks against the Kurds in 1988, has been has been put in charge of the southern front by his cousin, the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.
Marines stormed the town with bombers, helicopters and tanks. Officers said they had intelligence from anti-Saddam Iraqis that Gen Majid was in Shatra, along with other senior Ba'ath party officials.
Reuters correspondent Sean Maguire said that the US unit he was embedded with had retraced its steps back south down to Shatra, which is around 35km (20 miles) north of the city of Nassiriya, to engage with hostile forces that had been bypassed on their rapid advance.
Iraqi paramilitary forces have been ambushing coalition supply convoys and slowing the advance on Baghdad.
Royal marines pushing closer to Basra
Royal Marine commandos were today pushing closer towards the southern city of Basra, where they plan to target fighters loyal to Saddam.
Around 600 Royal Marines from 40 Commando captured the village of Abu
al-Khasib after a full day of fighting yesterday, and are now around a
mile from Basra. Today, the marines were expected to push on towards the
Shatt al-Arab waterway.
US troops kill 100 Iraqi paramilitaries
US troops killed around 100 Iraqi paramilitary fighters and captured about 50 prisoners at the Shia holy city of Najaf and Samana in south-central Iraq, according to US Central Command.
The US army's 101st Airborne Division surrounded Najaf yesterday, and was in position to begin rooting out the paramilitary forces, US commander Marvin Hill claimed. Four American soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber in Najaf on Saturday.
However, it was unclear whether the US strategy is to take Najaf or simply to cordon off the city. Certainly there are too many Iraqi fighters in that area to bypass them or leave them unattended and they're a danger to supply lines on the way to Baghdad.
In Nassiriya, meanwhile, where fighting has been fierce for a week, US marines secured buildings held by an Iraqi infantry division. They contained large caches of weapons and chemical decontamination equipment.
US troops also advanced to the town of Hindiya, on the Euphrates river, engaging Iraqi soldiers in firefights. At least 15 Iraqi troops were reported to have been killed.
Wounded British soldiers condemn US 'cowboy' pilot
British soldiers injured when a US aircraft attacked their convoy, killing one of their comrades, hit out angrily at the "cowboy" pilot today.
Troops wounded in Friday's attack accused the A-10 Thunderbolt pilot of
"incompetence and negligence", while others privately called for a
US war strategy under attack
US military leaders are fighting a diplomatic rearguard action to fend off growing criticism of their war strategy.
Faced with stronger than expected opposition from Iraqi soldiers, setbacks including friendly fire and civilian deaths, and growing unrest in the Arab world, the chief architects of the invasion have been forced to defend their plans.
The US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who has been criticised over his influence on a war plan involving far fewer troops than were used in the 1991 Gulf war, flatly denied reports that he rejected advice from Pentagon planners for substantially more men and armour.
Meanwhile, President Saddam vowed to make a bloody stand and inflict
huge losses on invaders in street fighting. An Iraqi military spokesman,
hailing Saturday's suicide bomb that killed four US troops, said that
4,000 willing "martyrs" from across the Arab world were already in Baghdad
US has taken 'ricin factory'
US forces are searching a terrorist compound in north-east Iraq that was probably the site where militants made the poison, ricin, that was found in London in January, the Pentagon's top general claimed yesterday.
General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the compound belonged to the group Ansar al-Islam, a radical Islamist group which has been linked by the Bush administration to al-Qaida.
"We think that's probably where the ricin that was found in London came from. At least the operatives and maybe some of the formulas came from this site," Gen Myers told CNN. Before the war, US officials said they had evidence that Ansar had tested chemical and biological weapons on livestock, and possibly on people, at the site.
US and British aircraft and missiles pounded the compound for days, and US AC-130 gunships also attacked before coalition and Kurdish ground forces went in, Gen Myers said.
The site has many underground tunnels to search "and it may take us a week to exploit that," he added. Gen Myers said that officials were examining laptop computers and documents also found there.
Ricin is relatively easy to make from castor beans, and is deadly in small quantities. There is no treatment or antidote for the poison, which can take days to kill.
Support for war falls, says poll
Public support for the war in Iraq has fallen for the first time since the conflict began, according to a poll out today. Some 54% of people questioned said that military action was "right", compared to 59% four days ago, the YouGov poll for the Telegraph found.
Most people now believe that the war will take a few months, as opposed to the feeling last week that fighting would be over within a week or two. However, only 26% of the 1,004 adults questioned over the internet yesterday believed that the coalition should withdraw its forces.
Meanwhile, a Time/CNN poll suggests that most Americans believe their government has been too optimistic in its assessment of the war, with 55% saying Washington was overly optimistic in its assessments.
British Marine dies in river ambush
A Royal Marine was killed in action when his boat was ambushed in
southern Iraq. Several others were injured in the attack on the Al Faw
peninsula, which came as Royal Marines launched their biggest offensive of
the war so far, according to the latest reports.
Three US soldiers die in helicopter crash
A US helicopter has crashed at a forward supply and refuelling point in southern Iraq, killing three marines and injuring a fourth.
A US military spokesman said the Marine UH-1 "Huey" helicopter was not brought down by hostile fire and a Pentagon official in Washington speculated that bad weather might have been to blame.
"Early indications are that, on take-off, the helicopter crashed," the Pentagon official told Reuters. There have been at least two other fatal US and British helicopter crashes since the war began.
Blair seeks to defuse Arab anger
The prime minister, Tony Blair, has written an article for Middle East newspapers arguing that the US and Britain were right to go to war in Iraq.
Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader who is an opponent of attacking Iraq, said today that he hoped President Saddam's regime would "recognise reality and give up".
Iraq: latest news and analysis
31.03.2003: Timeline: day 12 of war
Sign up for our free 2pm daily email briefing
20.03.2003: Full text: George Bush's address on the start of war
More key speeches and documents
Click-through graphics on Iraq
More special reports
Politics and the war
Aid for Iraq
Iraq - the media war
Voices on Iraq
Read our collection of 30 exclusive interviews
Comment and analysis
Comment and analysis on Iraq
Iraq: archive special
Special report: the anti-war movement
28.01.2003: Guide to anti-war websites
Arab Gateway: Iraq briefing
Middle East Daily
Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq
Global Policy Forum: sanctions against Iraq
UN special commission on Iraq
Printable version | Send it to a friend | Read it later | See saved stories