Monday, March 24, 2003, Chandigarh, India





National Capital Region--Delhi

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Allies zero in on Baghdad
  * US missile hits RAF jet    * 77 civilians killed, says Iraq


US Cobra attack helicopters bombard the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr on Saturday, as members of the US 15 Marine Expeditionary Unit continue to fight Iraqi forces in the town. AP/PTI


A still from a video released by the military showing a British Royal Air Force Harrier GR7 targeting and destroying a surface-to-surface missile in Iraq on Sunday. Reuters


An Iraqi soldier fires his AK-47 rifle into reeds on the banks of the Tigris river in Baghdad on Sunday after reports that US or British pilots may have ejected over the city. Television reports showed Iraqi soldiers shooting into the Tigris river and in boats, apparently searching the water for pilots. "Central Command denies any coalition aircraft were shot down over Baghdad," the spokesman at Central Command forward headquarters outside Qatar told Reuters. Reuters


In this image made from video, an unidentified man, left, identified by the US Army as a suspect, is detained after a grenade attack on a command tent at the 101st Airborne Division camp in Kuwait on Sunday. AP/PTI


Marines of the US Marine Expeditionary Unit Fox Company "Raiders" take cover from Iraqi fire in the port of Umm-Qasr on Sunday as they met pockets of resistance from Republican Guard in a residential area beside the port.


US President George W. Bush speaks to the press on the South Lawn of the White House on Sunday. Bush said he has been briefed about US soldiers taken prisoner by Iraq and expects Iraq to treat them humanely.


A combination picture from Iraqi television shows five unidentified prisoners who said they were Americans taken in a battle near the southern city of Nassiriya. Iraqi television showed the video on Sunday which also showed at least four bodies, said to be US soldiers. Reuters photos

Southern Iraq, March 23
US forces surged across several fronts today to within 100 miles of Baghdad, but the battlefield success was tempered by news that a US missile might have downed a British plane and that an American soldier was suspected behind a deadly grenade attack on his comrades.

In perhaps the most dramatic advance, the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade covered roughly 230 miles in 40 hours to take positions about 100 miles from Baghdad.

In more than 70 tanks and 60 Bradley fighting vehicles, the brigade raced day and night across the desert, at one point killing 100 Iraqi militiamen who confronted the Americans on machine gun-mounted civilian vehicles.

Not all went smoothly for the allies. Iraqi forces resisted vigorously in some areas. The British said a missing Royal Air Force plane might have been shot down accidentally by a Patriot missile near the Kuwait-Iraq border while returning from a mission. The aircraft's crew was missing. In Kuwait, American officials were forced to confront the prospect that one of their own soldiers had killed a comrade and wounded 13 others.

The grenade attack occurred early today at a 101st Air-borne Division command centre, where an assailant threw grenades into three tents.

The suspect, found hiding in a bunker, is an engineer from an engineering platoon. The motive "most likely was resentment," said Mr Max Blumenfeld, a US Army spokesman, who did not elaborate.

Three of the wounded were seriously injured; 10 had superficial wounds from fragments of the grenade, said Mr George Heath, civilian spokesman for Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the 101st Airborne's home base.

"Death is a tragic incident regardless of how it comes," he said, adding that: "But when it comes from a fellow comrade, it does even more to hurt morale."

On the battlefront, US and British forces captured territory, towns and military installations often with little or no opposition. But in some locations, Iraqi forces fought back with artillery fire or guerrilla-style counterattacks.

Iraqi state television reported fighting between Iraqi ruling Baath Party militias and US-British forces near the Shiite holy city of Najaf, 95 miles south of Baghdad. It said a top Baath Party official in Najaf was killed.

US Army infantry battled Iraqi troops throughout the day at the city of As-Samawah, downriver from Najaf and 150 miles south of Baghdad, as the Americans seized two bridges across a canal near the Euphrates' southern bank.

BAGHDAD: Multiple explosions shook Baghdad this evening in one of the heaviest air attacks of the war so far, setting buildings ablaze and clouds of smoke into the sky. As many as 77 civilians were killed and 366 injured by US air strikes on the southern Iraqi city of Basra, Information Minister Mohammad Said al-Sahhaf said on Sunday. The dead and the injured were victims of cluster bombs, he told a press conference in Baghdad.

Iraqi television today showed gruesome images of captured and dead US soldiers as senior US defense officials confirmed that about 12 US troops were captured in southern Iraq, where coalition forces were facing fierce resistance in their push to Baghdad.

The pictures, relayed by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television, showed several bodies, apparently US soldiers killed in Iraq, along with five prisoners, including two wounded.

At least five charred and bloodied bodies lay sprawled in a makeshift morgue though it was not possible to count their exact number.

KALAK: Bombs rocked the northern Iraqi city of Mosul again after nightfall today as anti-aircraft fire streamed into the sky, a Reuters correspondent watching from Kurdish-held territory said. AP, AFP



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