Wednesday, March 26, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

March to Baghdad on despite sandstorms
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

Kuwait City, March 25
The Anglo-American forces continued with their multiple thrusts in Iraq despite a blinding sandstorm today as they fully secured the strategic Umm Qasr port city, headed towards Al Zubair town just about 10 km short of Basra and were less than 100 km from the final frontier: the capital city of Baghdad.

Kuwaiti officials here said Operation Iraqi Freedom was not allowed to be derailed by a fierce sandstorm in the region which reduced visibility to near zero and despite poor weather the coalition forces continued with their heavy bombardment of areas around Baghdad. The buildings targeted today were the Iraqi Intelligence Headquarters and the Republican Guard, President Saddam Hussein’s elite force.

Military observers here said the continued aerial strafing of Baghdad’s vicinity despite bad weather was a clear indication that the USA meant business and was doing everything it could to finish the war earliest. They admitted that the poor weather had hampered the air operations of the coalition forces.

The officials claimed that some 500 Iraqi fighters have been killed in the past two days by the 3rd Infantry Division’s mechanised units as they rollicked through southern Iraq.

The coalition forces too have not gone unscathed and have suffered 26 casualties, including 10 of Americans.

Observers here point out that it was gradually dawning on the American and British military commanders that Iraq is not going to be a cakewalk for them. The Iraqis’ resistance pockets are reported from virtually everywhere.

A new strategy by Iraqi forces today forced the coalition forces to abandon the main highway and instead take unmetalled roads in their march to Baghdad. This was done in view of the reports that the Iraqis had planted booby traps and improvised explosive devices on the highways and mined the deserts to impede the advance of the coalition forces’ tanks and mechanised columns.

The coalition forces today discovered to their horror another strategy of the Iraqis when they detected and destroyed six satellite jamming devices. These devices were clearly aimed at disrupting with the signals of the American and British military command and control infrastructure and could have resulted in their missiles landing at wrong targets.

Officials here also wondered about the huge amount of weaponry recovered from the Iraqi soldiers and noted that such stockpiles were fully capable of wreaking devastation on the coalition forces but for the low morale of the Iraqi soldiers. They said the Iraqi troops were tired and desperate to return home peacefully.

AP adds: Meanwhile, British forces — a day after coming under heavy attack — declared that parts of Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, were now a "military target". A second British soldier was reported killed overnight near the town of Az Zubayr, close to Basra.

Previously, the US and British troops had refused to enter Basra for fear of being caught in an urban bloodbath. At the southern oil fields, once considered secure, Iraqi forces, apparently, ambushed a British unit by feigning surrender.

The resistance, sporadic and sometimes fierce, is generally the work of Iraqi forces like the Fidayeen, Saddam Hussein’s most trusted paramilitary fighters. They wear no uniform and hide among civilians, striking and, then, receding.

The helicopter assault around Baghdad marked the first known engagement between forces in central Iraq and many of the US planes were hit by Iraqi groundfire. One went down behind enemy lines and the Pentagon said the two-person crew had been taken prisoner.

Iraq’s Vice-President, Mr Taha Yassin Ramadan, has criticised Arabs for not supporting Iraq, hinting the Arabs should instead impose an oil embargo on the US and Britain. "Why don’t they stop the flow of oil to the countries of aggression?" he asked. He didn’t make a call, however, for such action. Iraq also accused the US and Britain of creating a humanitarian crisis by forcing the United Nations to halt food and medicine destined for the country.

Mr Bush also talked with the Russian President, Mr Vladimir Putin, on telephone, complaining that Russia was selling anti-tank guided missiles, jamming devices and night-vision goggles to Iraq. Baghdad and Moscow have denied the claims. There were fresh anti-war protests across the US and abroad. More than 120 persons were arrested in San Francisco and at least 50 in Hartford yesterday.




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