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Fierce Clashes Slow US/UK Forces' Advance on the Capital
Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2003

Naseer Al-Nahr, Arab News War Correspondent, www.aljazeerah.info

BAGHDAD, 27 March 2003 Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal warned yesterday that Saudi Arabia's long-standing alliance with the United States may be damaged if the war against Iraq drags on or turns into a blood bath for Iraqi civilians.

"I believe the basics are healthy in that relationship," the Saudi chief diplomat told foreign reporters in Riyadh.

"Definitely the war will not contribute to that relationship. Definitely if the war continues it may damage that relationship. That is why we are interested in bringing this war to an end," the prince said.

Duststorms and intense clashes in southern and central Iraq hindered the US/UK invaders' drive toward Baghdad for a second straight day, as President George Bush warned troops in Florida that the military offensive was "far from over".

Russia, which has long voiced its opposition to the war, called for an immediate end to the war after yesterday's missile attacks on civilians in Baghdad neighborhoods.

Explosions rocked this city at dawn yesterday, after overnight raids that sent thick black smoke billowing from the state television building, targeted by Washington in a bid to silence the Iraqi media.

Fresh airstrikes took place at 7:15 p.m. on the seventh day of fighting since US/UK forces launched a campaign aimed at disarming Iraq and removing Saddam's government.

The airstrikes on Baghdad came as the invading forces in southern and central Iraq battled sandstorms and stiff resistance from Iraqi fighters that hindered their march toward Saddam's seat of power.

A sea of blinding dust kept the 101st Airborne Division's fleet of more than 270 attack helicopters out of Baghdad for the second day, officers said.

The US Third Infantry Division was closest to Baghdad, positioned near Karbala, about 100 kilometers from the capital, field reports said, with the 101st crawling up from the southwest and at least two divisions of Marines approaching from the southeast.

US troops reported their most one-sided victory of the war thus far, saying they had killed 650 Iraqi militiamen in the outskirts of Najaf, south of the capital.

In addition, 250 were killed in two separate incidents on the east bank of the Euphrates River, and another 100 on a bridge spanning the river, said Major General Buford Blount, commander of the Third Infantry Division.

At least 20 US servicemen and 20 British soldiers have been killed since war erupted early Thursday. A handful of others are believed to have been captured.

Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television broadcast photos of two dead British troops and two others reportedly taken prisoner.

Nevertheless, Bush hailed the military's "good progress" in Iraq, and said: "We cannot predict the final day of the Iraqi regime, but I can assure you there will be a day of reckoning for the Iraqi regime, and that day is drawing near," he added.

"Protecting innocent civilians is a central commitment of our war plan," Bush said.

But witnesses saw about two dozen corpses among wrecked vehicles on the road north of the town of Shatra, where the American convoy had come under small-arms fire.

A US military official said some of the 12 soldiers whose supply convoy was ambushed near Nassiriyah in southern Iraq on Sunday may have been killed by their captors although they had tried to surrender. US/UK forces killed at least 100 Iraqis in Nassiriyah, a key crossing point over the Euphrates river. Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf said more than 500 Iraqi civilians had been wounded and 200 homes destroyed in Nassiriyah as a result of US and British bombing.

US Marines confiscated more than 3,000 chemical suits and masks from a hospital in Nassiriyah used by Iraqi paramilitaries, US military officials at allied command headquarters in Qatar said. But British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told Parliament: "To date we have no evidence of Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction during this campaign."

Al-Sahaf denied reports that the country's sole deep-water port of Umm Qasr in the south had fallen under US/UK control. Baghdad also rejected reports that an anti-Saddam revolt was ongoing in the country's second city of Basra.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair told lawmakers that "some limited form of uprising" had taken place in Iraq's main port. But Iraqi officials denied the report and a correspondent in Basra for Al-Jazeera said there was no sign of a revolt.

As British forces entered the outskirts of Basra, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) said clean drinking water had been restored to about half of the city's 1.2 million inhabitants.

A column of Iraqi tanks broke out of Basra late yesterday and was heading toward British positions under bombardment by coalition aircraft, a British spokesman said. Squadron Leader Simon Scott said he could not confirm the number of tanks in the armored thrust, but press reports indicated as many as 100 may be involved.

The UN Security Council met yesterday behind closed doors to discuss the war in Iraq and the possible restart of the oil-for-food program. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed concern over the number of casualties in Iraq, urging both sides to respect international law and take all necessary steps to protect civilians.


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