Iraq War News Roundup
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TERENCE SMITH: The weather over Iraq was good for a second day today, and the coalition air campaign was again in full swing. After the heaviest overnight bombardment of Baghdad in days, Abu Dhabi TV reported today that this market was hit by a U.S. Cruise missile. Local doctors said the blast killed 55 people. The air raids startled reporters on the ground, knocked local TV off the air, and further damaged a major Iraqi communications building. For the first time in the Iraq campaign, the U.S. was using 4,600-pound so-called bunker-buster bombs. Those are the same weapons the U.S. employed in the caves of northeastern Afghanistan in late 2001. Despite the overnight bombing, many local civilians remained defiant.
MAN ON STREET: (Translated): The missiles of Bush and Blair don’t worry us. We are a Muslim people, and this American aggression requires jihad.
TERENCE SMITH: Today at U.S. Central Command in Qatar, commanders showed additional air attacks on missile sites and military barracks in the Baghdad area. Tonight in Baghdad, more explosions were heard, including one near the information ministry. As for the ground war, U.S. troops remain positioned near Karbala and Kut, just outside the heavily protected ring around Baghdad known as the red zone.
In part, that’s because the overextended military supply lines from Kuwait have been hit by repeated assaults and ambushes by Iraqi guerrillas tying up the major crossroads cities of Najaf, Samawah, and Nasiriyah. One U.S. Marine was killed in the fighting last night and another died when a U.S. vehicle accidentally ran over him as he slept. Troop reinforcements arrived in Nasiriyah, the town some soldiers call “Ambush Alley”: Nasiriyah. Today four American marines were reported missing there. Since much of the combat in the region has been fought at close quarters, it’s hard for coalition pilots to identify Iraqi fighters from the air.
CAPTAIN MARK FOX: Now as we have ground forces that are in proximity of Iraqi forces, then the discussion that we had about close air support and avoiding blue-on-blue, and avoiding fratricide, becomes a higher priority. And there’s no shame in bringing your ordinance back if you don’t have the right confidence level that where you’re dropping is going to be the right thing, or the right place, then you don’t drop.
TERENCE SMITH: Despite the slow movement of supply convoys from Kuwait, U.S. commanders in Qatar today defended their tactics.
REPORTER: Have you broken the first rule of soldiering, and underestimated you enemy?
BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: We believe that we’re still consistent with our plan and how we designed it. There will always be things that occur on the battlefield that are not precisely as you calculated them in your design.
TERENCE SMITH: Iraqi officials today struck a sharply different note.
MOHAMMED SA’EED AL-SHAHHAF: I have one interpretation, for the time being, that they are losing and they have in fact said that.
TERENCE SMITH: In the southern city of Basra, Iraqi civilians came under fire as they tried to leave the area. We have a report from Juliet Bremner from Independent Television News.
JULIET BREMNER: Too scared to stay, families from Basra braved the crossing out of the city despite the fact it had been hit by mortars just hours earlier. Shortly after dawn, a group of around 300 refugees emerged from behind the burning oil holes that marked the boundary of Basra towards this British-held bridge. Officers watched in horror as a barrage of mortars exploded around them, almost certainly launched from paramilitaries who still control the port.
MAJ. LINDSAY MacDUFF: My troops were deployed forward, as they have been for some time, again, checking and screening the transit of people through. And when they came under indirect fire from what we assessed had been mortar fire, clearly they were… there were civilians in the area, too, and they dispersed very quickly. The rounds were landing relatively close to where they were.
JULIET BREMNER: This time, no one was killed, but security checks on all those leaving or entering have moved on to an even higher level. The attack on the convoy of refugees this morning only serves to underline the worst fears of British troops: That people are being held against their will in Basra, and the paramilitaries will use the most violent means possible to prevent them leaving. Despite the British conviction that the refugees were deliberately targeted, it is possible that they were simply caught up in an attack on the front line. But the teams securing the bridge have no doubt that irregular fighters are trying to slip in and out of Basra. Suspects are rounded up and escorted back to their base for interrogation.
BRIGADIER GRAHAM BINNS: We’ve been hearing stories of this kind of brutality, but this is the first occasion on which we’ve actually witnessed it.
JULIET BREMNER: For those risking this dangerous journey, the delay could be deadly– a bleak choice between running out of food or braving the crossfire.
TERENCE SMITH: The British have encircled Basra for several days but have not made an all-out attack on the city. Instead, they’ve fought a series of battles with militias loyal to Saddam Hussein. And that happened again today. British marines destroyed key opposition buildings in Basra, but the city’s not yet secure.
COL. CHRIS VERNON: Basra, clearly nowhere near yet in our hands, and we have no way at the moment of getting humanitarian aid into Basra.
TERENCE SMITH: Today, Iraqis say U.S. drone spy planes went down in both Basra and Baghdad, prompting this local celebration. The American military said it had no information on the incidents. The less publicized part of the war involves U.S. and Australian Special Forces operating in Iraq’s western and northern regions. Many Americans are working alongside Kurdish militia groups. Gaby Rado of Independent Television News is with one group of Kurds, just outside the strategic city of Kirkuk.
GABY RADO: The reinforced concrete monument to Saddam Hussein was one of the first things the Kurdish fighters dealt with when they entered the city. It had been standing in the middle of the village. Across the road, the Iraqi army barracks, abandoned yesterday. For some reason, the men inside had pulled back some 12 miles in the direction of Kirkuk, the oil city. Earlier, we’d driven up to the old Iraqi front line. Now it’s been turned into a Kurdish military checkpoint. Several miles on, the local fighters, the peshmirga, have taken control of a strategically important reach position. It overlooks Kirkuk, the oil fields and industry clearly visible. According to the Kurds, Kirkuk is their city. Tens of thousands of them have been driven out by the Baghdad regime.
MAN (Translated): Most of us peshmirga are from Kirkuk. For 12 years, we’ve been refugees out here. Every one of us wants to go back to our homes. Then we will be happy. We hope now Saddam’s regime will be thrown out.
GABY RADO: We came across a group of young Kurds carrying a missile. They said they’d come across it standing on the ground near the Iraqi base. Gas masks are also found in nearby bunkers, signs at least of a hasty pullback. Kurdish television has shown footage of Iraqi soldiers who they say have surrendered from the front lines south of the city of Erbil. The men appeared to speak willingly and showed no signs of force or maltreatment. The Kurds claimed there had been 300 such defectors.
SPOKESMAN (Translated): Most of the soldiers would like to come over as well, but they’re afraid of what might happen to their families. My family’s in Basra. I want to go back if I can in two or three days.
MAN (Translated): A security officer came to us and said nobody must run away. If anybody does, they would shoot and kill them.
GABY RADO: The Kurdish forces know they still have to fight their first real battle with the Iraqis. They lack the heavy weapons to do it by themselves and will need American help in the air and on the ground if they’re to stand any chance.
TERENCE SMITH: There was an explosion in Kuwait City early Saturday morning local time. Police said a missile had landed in the sea near a waterfront shopping mall. The blast sent smoke rising over the skyline and shattered some glass doors and windows. Police said there were no injuries. The U.S. military said it was investigating but could not confirm a missile attack. The latest casualties in the war mean 28 U.S. troops now have been killed, another 16 are missing; and seven are prisoners of war. The number of British deaths in the war stands at 22. The Iraqis have not released figures on their military casualties, but they say that more than 4,000 civilians have been killed or wounded.