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U.S. Marines Push Though Nasiriya, Cross Euphrates River

BY Admin  March 25, 2003 at 8:35 AM EDT

Two days earlier, a failed Marine bid to cross the river and the Saddam Canal was blocked by “irregular” Iraqi fighters in civilian clothes. Ten Marines were killed near Nasiriya on Sunday.

The Marines have now laid down a two-mile corridor of armored vehicles and the convoy charged through the streets under the cover of helicopter rockets and a barrage of artillery, tank and heavy machine gun fire.

Controlling bridges across the Euphrates River is crucial to a coalition advance to Baghdad from Kuwait.

The U.S.-led forces that invaded Iraq have largely skirted cities. But those bridges across the Euphrates could only be controlled by going through Nasiriya, a city of more than a quarter million people.

The Marines in Nasiriya had taken up defensive positions on the low rooftops of the dusty, brick buildings lining the street, looking for snipers and fighters with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.

CNN’s Art Harris, reporting with the U.S. 2nd Marines travelling through Nasiriya, reported that the war had become “very untraditional,” with the Iraqi troops not wearing uniforms.

The Marines used Cobra attack helicopters to blast Iraqi positions with rockets and shattered low-rise brick homes with high-explosive shells fired at close range from tanks, according to a Reuters correspondent traveling with the 1st Marine Division.

The heavy rattle of machine gun fire from armored vehicles was almost constant as thousands of U.S. troops forced their way through the city, the Reuters correspondent reported.

Captain Joe Bevan told Reuters that his men fired at a stronghold of 10 to 15 black-clad Iraqi fighters from a range of 300 to 400 yards. Many of the fighters are believed to be from the Saddam Fedayeen militia loyal to the Iraqi leader.

CNN reports that one Marine was wounded when his unit was shot at by other U.S. troops during the night near Nasiriya in a “friendly fire” incident.

On Sunday, the Marines had said they were in control of two bridges in the city, one over the Euphrates river and one over the Saddam Canal, two miles to the north of it.

But they had been unable to control the streets and suffered casualties on Sunday when Iraqi forces, including the Saddam Fedayeen, mounted a guerrilla counterattack.

Nasiriya, built in a farming region, was the site of a 1915 battle in World War I when British forces took 500 casualties in seizing the town from the Ottoman Turks. About 500 defenders also died in that battle.