Thursday, April 3, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Allies close in on Baghdad
Encircle Karbala; heavy bombings in and around capital
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

Kuwait City, April 2
American troops today fought all-out battles with at least two divisions of the elite Republican Guard and made significant advances to Baghdad from three directions indicating that the “mother of all battles” — the final battle for Baghdad — was drawing closer.

US warplanes, after an unusual lull for most of the night last night, resumed heavy bombings in and around Baghdad shortly after 3 am local time, targeting Iraqi military facilities, T-72 tanks, armoured personnel carriers, fuel tanks and radar systems, officials here said. Some half a dozen big explosions were reported from Baghdad, one of them “really huge” implying that an ammunition depot had been hit.

For the first time perhaps in Operation Iraqi Freedom, which entered the 14th day today, the coalition forces seemed to increase their stranglehold on the Iraqi fighters and reported rapid advancement towards the capital city of Baghdad for launching the most decisive phase of the war.

Many Iraqi bastions fell to the coalition forces in the past 24 hours, but it was not clear whether it was reflective of crumbling Iraqi defences or a tactical retreat on their part. The Allies do not rule out the possibility of instructions to Iraqi forces to hold their horses and reserve their munitions and manpower for the battle of Baghdad when they expect to neutralise the American technological superiority and inflict unacceptable casualties on the coalition forces in the urban warfare.

The American forces made dramatic progress in several strategically important Iraqi war theaters. Karbala, a city west of Baghdad housing the holiest Shia shrine in the world, was encircled and all exit routes were sealed. The Medina Division of the Republican Guard was attacked on way to Karbala and the Americans reported inflicting heavy damages on the division.

Much to their amazement, the Americans completed the operation in three hours. Karbala is the last major hurdle for the Allies on the road to Baghdad.

Fierce battles took place in Diwaniyah where an estimated 80 Iraqi fighters were killed and dozens captured.

The American troops entered another holy city of Najaf, which is of immense importance militarily.

The American ground forces heavily bombed areas around Kut, a township south-east of Baghdad which guards eastern approach to Baghdad. The Americans secured an airbase at Qalat Sukkar in their Kut operations, a tactical victory as the airbase can be used as a staging post.

In Nasiriyah, the US marines launched nighttime raids. The Americans committed yet another blunder in Hilla, Central Iraq, where they bombed a residential area and killed 11 civilians, mostly children.

The Americans have so far counted 62 of their troops killed or missing in action and over 100 injured.

As the Americans tightened their noose around Baghdad, they were engaged in all-out battles with Republican Guard divisions — the Baghdad Division around Kut and the Medina Division in Karbala.

The American forces were closing in on Baghdad from south, north and west. However, a worrying factor for them was that the ferocious Al Nida Division of the Republican Guard has not been touched in the battles so far. This division is equipped with formidable firepower and much more long-range strike capability than any other division of the Republican Guard.

Coalition forces’ officers admit that their real test is yet to come and the war is yet to enter the most decisive stage. The battles ahead with the Republican Guard and with the Special Republican Guard, once they enter Baghdad, are fraught with unknown danger and the Iraqis still have the potential to surprise them.

From the southern city of Basra, two significant developments were reported. British soldiers received a first-of-its-kind request from the Iraqis for a 50-minute ceasefire to enable them to take away their dead. The request was rejected by the American commanders as they suspected a foul play and yet another deception game in it.

Secondly, two would-be suicide bombers surrendered to the British authorities in Umm Qasr, saying that they were no longer interested in becoming suicide bombers.

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