JIM LEHRER: Pres. Bush strongly defended the course of the war today. He said U.S. troops have performed brilliantly, and scored major gains in a short time. He spoke during a visit to a Coast Guard station in Philadelphia.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: In 11 days coalition forces have taken control of most western and southern Iraq. In 11 days we've seized key bridges, opened a northern front, nearly achieved complete air superiority and are delivering tons of humanitarian aid. Many dangers lie ahead but day by day we are moving closer to Baghdad; day by day we are moving closer to victory.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Bush said it was not surprising Iraqis have failed to rise against Saddam Hussein's regime. He said they've been terrorized by death squads that shoot those who refuse to fight. He also warned the Iraqis may yet try to stage terror attacks inside the United States. Inside Iraq today, U.S. planes bombed without let-up, and coalition ground forces moved forward. Gwen Ifill has our war news roundup.
GWEN IFILL: U.S. Army units fought their way closer to Baghdad, and began probing ahead to test Iraqi defenses. As they did, warplanes continued the shattering air assault in and around the city. The U.S. Military said it had dropped some 3,000 precision- guided bombs since Friday. A wave of bombers pounded Baghdad repeatedly today, hitting two telecommunications buildings. The information ministry was set ablaze for the second time in two days. The palace complex of one of Saddam Hussein's sons was also targeted. Iraq's foreign minister remained defiant.
NAJI SABRI, Foreign Minister, Iraq (Translated): As for those who are subject to their leaders' illusions and who are obsessed with evil and war, then they have no future and no hope of escaping the inferno that we are preparing for those aggressors on all fronts.
GWEN IFILL: U.S. defense officials today said the attacks have significantly weakened the Iraqi president's elite Republican Guard troops. Iraqi TV broadcast scenes of Saddam Hussein and his sons meeting with military commanders. It was not clear when the footage was recorded. But at the Pentagon, spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said, some of Saddam's family are trying to leave Iraq.
VICTORIA CLARKE: Since the coalition bombed Saddam's headquarters at the very beginning of the war, the world has neither seen his hide nor hair, only tapes. We've not seen his sons. We've seen evidence that family members are fleeing the country or trying to flee the country.
GWEN IFILL: About 50 miles south of the capital in Hindiyah, U.S. troops spearheading the push to Baghdad battled Iraqi forces for control, of a strategic bridge over the Euphrates River. Farther west near Karbala, coalition aircraft continued to bombard Republican Guard positions. And toward the south near Basra, after hours of fierce clashes with paramilitaries overnight, royal marines entered the southern suburb of Abu al Khasib today. The British said about 30 Iraqis were killed, and hundreds were captured. To the northwest of Basra British artillery fired repeatedly on Iraqi positions. And fierce fighting took the life today of a U.S. Army soldier in Najaf, about 100 miles south of Baghdad. There were reports of street to street fighting in the town and U.S.-led forces stepped up security searches there; Najaf is where a suicide car bomber killed four marines Saturday. Iraq's information minister warned that more than 5,000 non- Iraqi Arabs have now arrived in the country to conduct more suicide attacks. At the daily briefing in Qatar, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks was asked, how that threat would affect the battle plan.
BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS, U.S. Central Command: Certainly if they're able to detonate an explosive, it's like any other weapon that encounters a force. And it's very difficult to achieve any kind of degree of mass with that. That's a tactic of terror. When losses occur inside of military formations, the military formations consolidate, reorganize, reestablish any capability, and they continue to fight. It's not a very effective military tactic at all. It's a terror tactic, and it won't be effective.
GWEN IFILL: In other areas of Iraq, British paratroopers carried out airborne patrols of vehicles. A military spokesman said a car tried to run through a checkpoint in Najaf this afternoon. When the vehicle didn't stop, soldiers fired on it. Inside were thirteen women and children, seven died and two were wounded. At this morning's briefing Brooks told the story of a similar incident in south central Iraq yesterday.
BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: When they failed to stop, having been signaled by a psychological operations loudspeaker team present at the site, they were taken under fire by the checkpoint. The lead vehicle, a sedan, immediately halted, and the second vehicle, a truck, rear- ended it. An adult male, an adult female, and two children exited the sedan. Two Iraqi soldiers exited the truck with weapons and one of the soldiers shot and killed the adult female. After a brief firefight, both Iraqi soldiers and the three surviving civilians lay wounded. As the marines approached, one of the wounded soldiers pulled out a weapon and was killed on the spot. The marines evacuated the remaining wounded, and upon searching the truck found 120 millimeter mortars, and mortar ammunition.
GWEN IFILL: In northern Iraq, B-52s dropped their payloads on Iraqi positions near the towns of Mosul, Kirkuk, and Kalak. Refugees reported to be Iraqis were seen crossing from the South over to the Kurdish- controlled territory. There were signs of progress in the struggle to get humanitarian aid to Iraqi civilians. Fresh water began flowing through a new coalition pipeline, to the southern port city of Umm Qasr. The first aid ship had docked there at the end of last week. Aid also began to reach the city of Nasiriyah, where there's been fierce fighting since the opening days of the war. We have more on that story from James Mates of Independent Television News.
JAMES MATES: For the first time in this sector, a lull in the fighting sufficient to get some food and medicine to the people of Nasiriyah. Hundreds queued through the day to get rice, flour, baby milk, even some dates, often the first supplies since the fighting started. More important, the first medical care in many days, a rudimentary tent allowing two marine doctors to do what little they could. (Children crying)
LT. COL. ERIC GRABOWSKI, U.S. Marine Corps: It's going to be a big effort ultimately and we've got to start somewhere and just continue to work at it. Also we want to make sure the local Iraqis are feeding themselves and taking care of themselves.
JAMES MATES: It is the first step down what may be a very long road to win hearts and minds -- for this small patch of relative calm should not deceive one into thinking that somehow the fighting is over. On the contrary, just 20 miles north of here, there has been a tremendous battle today for the town of Shatrah, a town where coalition forces believe that one of Saddam's most notorious henchmen may be hiding out. Ali Hassan al Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" because he organized the gassing of the Kurds in Halabja, is Saddam's cousin and commands this southern front. For U.S. forces, he is very near the top of their target list.
GWEN IFILL: Late today, the U.S. Central Command reported finding the bodies of four marines near Nasiriyah. They were in a tank that toppled off a bridge into the Euphrates River last Thursday, after the tank driver was killed by Iraqi fire. The U.S. Military has now confirmed 46 Americans killed since the war began; thirteen are listed as missing and seven are prisoners of war. The British have lost 25. As many as 8,000 Iraqis have been taken prisoners of war, according to British military officials. The Red Cross visited some of those prisoners today for the first time. Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Thanks, Gwen. The war came under new criticism today in the world's largest Islamic country, Indonesia. A top Islamic politician called for Pres. Bush and British Prime Minister Blair to face war crimes charges. He accused them of using unjustified force against the Iraqi people. More than 100,000 people marched in the Indonesian capital on Sunday, protesting the war.