Saturday, March 22, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

US, UK troops push on to Basra
Iraq torches 7 oil wells * US Marine dies in gunfire

Smoke rises from one of President Saddam Hussein's palaces
Smoke rises from one of President Saddam Hussein's palaces along the Tigris river in Baghdad on Thursday. — AP/PTI photo

Baghdad, March 21
US and British troops pushed towards Iraq’s southern city of Basra today, encountering little resistance in their war to oust President Saddam Hussein, whose forces have torched up to seven oil wells.

Amid a sustained ground offensive into southern Iraq and more intense air raids on Baghdad targeting Saddam’s grip on power, British troops secured a key oil installation, but suffered their first casualties of the campaign.

US and British forces took over the town of Safwan in southern Iraq and the strategic Gulf port of Umm Qasr today as gound forces rolled toward Baghdad, military officials said.

“Umm Qasr has been overshelmed by the US Marines and now is in coalition hands,” Adm Michael Boyce, chief of the British defense staff, said in London.

In Britain, US air force B-52 heavy bombers were seen taking off for the first time since the war began, possibly presaging an escalation in the US bombing campaign, which has so far been limited to strategic targets.

Saddam vowed to fight on, dismissing US appeals for his troops to surrender, after US intelligence officials told the Washington Post they believed they had only narrowly missed him in a Baghdad air strike yesterday.

US troops had advanced 160 km inside Iraq since storming across the Kuwaiti border overnight, and were steering clear of cities at all costs, US Army and Marine officers said.

Officers with a 20,000-strong US Infantry Division said they expected tens of thousands of US Army as well as Marines and British forces to have entered Iraq from a broad swathe of Kuwait.

A US Marine was killed in Iraq, becoming the first reported combat death of the war, defence officials said today.

The slain soldier, of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, was moving in the ground assault in southern Iraq, said Lt-Col Neal Peckham, a British military spokesman in Kuwait.

Colonel Peckham said he had no further details. MSNBC cable network reported that the soldier was felled by Iraqi gunfire during the advance on the Rumeila oil field.

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told the BBC that Iraqi forces in the south of the country had deliberately torched as many as seven oil wells in Iraq.

A dark haze clouded the Kuwaiti capital, with officials saying it was caused by Iraqi troops setting fire to their own oil wells over the border.

Three explosions were heard after air raid sirens sounded in Kuwait, an AFP correspondent reported.

Mr Hoon said a “large number” of British Royal Air Force aircraft, including Tornado GR4 supersonic bombers with enhanced Paveway 2 missiles, had been active in Iraq in the past 24 hours.

A number of missiles had been fired from British submarines and it was believed that all hit their “regime targets” in Iraq, he added.

The area around Basra, defended by a Republican Guard Division, is vital to Iraq’s economy because it controls the country’s oil terminals in the Gulf and is the only access to the sea.

A British spokesman at the allied command centre in Qatar said Royal Marines had secured oil installations and established a beachhead on the strategic Fao peninsula of southeast Iraq.

Group Captain Al Lockwood of the Royal Air Force added British troops had “taken the oil pumping equipment that leads into the northern Arabian Gulf,” easing fears that Saddam could trigger oil spills.

Meanwhile, Iraq said today it had shot down a US or British fighter plane, the official Iraqi news agency reported.

A military spokesman quoted by the official Iraqi news agency said an Iraqi missile hit the plane at 0255 GMT (0825 IST) while it was carrying out an air raid, and that the aircraft crashed in Kuwait. AFP, AP  


Saddam safe after bomb attacks

Baghdad, March 21
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein survived US air raids that targeted his family's houses earlier today, Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told at a news conference.

"They targeted the houses of Saddam Hussein and his family, but they are safe," said Sahaf. ReutersBack

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