Bombing Campaign Continues, Guerrilla Fights Slow Advance of Troops | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 24.03.2003
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Bombing Campaign Continues, Guerrilla Fights Slow Advance of Troops

U.S. commander expresses satisfaction about the pace of the advance on Baghdad, Saddam Hussein appears on television to urge Iraqis to "strike evil" and Tony Blair says arrival in Baghdad will be "crucial moment" of war.

One day after United States and British troops suffered their worst casualties yet in fighting in Iraq, a defiant Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appeared on television Monday to rally his troops.

Saddam Hussein

Iraq President Saddam Hussein

Saddam took to the airwaves to proclaim that "victory will be ours soon." "Iraq will strike the necks (of the enemy) as God has commanded you," he said in the nationally televised address. "Strike them, and strike evil so that evil will be defeated." Saddam also said U.S. and British forces were advancing into "a dead end" as they neared Baghdad.

Later in the day, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, said Saddam was in "full control of the army, country" and that the country's leadership was "in good shape."

En route to Baghdad, U.S. and British troops are already buttoning down the hatchets for what could be a long and bloody war. Officially, the total death toll of U.S. and British troops is at 39 -- mostly from accidents including aircraft crashes and erroneous "friendly fire" from American and British soldiers. Most of the combat-related deaths came on Sunday, when American and British forces ran into a surprise counterattack by the militia after they thought they had secured two bridges across the Euphrates River.

Iraqi television showed up to eight corpses of what it said were U.S. soldiers killed in fighting near Nassiriya and five U.S. captives. It later reported the discovery of an additional 25 bodies, but those have not been confirmed by the Pentagon.

The Arab news channel Al-Jazeera reported that U.S. units may face more of the same type of guerrilla attacks in the days to come. It quoted unidentified Iraqi officials as saying the Iraqis were using a defensive tactic of falling back, allowing their enemy to overextend itself and then to become vulnerable to attack behind the lines.

Here is a summary of other events in the war that unfolded Monday:

Tony Blair

Tony Blair

British Prime Minister Tony Blair

In his first statement to the British House of Commons since hostilities began, British Prime Minister Tony Blair (photo) on Monday sought to assure British parliamentarians that the timing and strategy of the campaign was going according to plan and that troops were 60 miles south of Baghdad. He warned, however, that there "were bound to be difficult days ahead," telling MPs the troops would soon meet resistance from the Medina Division of the Republican Guard who are defending the route to Baghdad. This, he said, would be a "crucial moment" in the battle for Iraq.

Blair's appearance in parliament came as Britain confirmed it had lost its first soldier in combat near Zubayr in the south of Iraq, bringing the number of British dead and missing to 19.

Humanitarian crisis

According to Iraqi figures, over 200 Iraqis have now been killed in bombing raids on Baghdad and other cities. And the United Nations has warned of other collateral damage the war may cause. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for urgent action to make sure there was enough water in Basra, a southern city of some two million people where temperatures can soar to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of a potential humanitarian "catastrophe" in Iraq.

Tommy Franks

The commander of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq gave an upbeat assessment of the 5-day-old war despite some setbacks. "Progress toward our objectives has been rapid and in some cases dramatic," U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks (photo) told his second news briefing of the war at Central Command headquarters outside Doha, Qatar.

"We've intentionally bypassed enemy formations, to include paramilitary and the Fadayeen (suicide soldiers), and so you can expect that our cleanup operations are going to be ongoing across the days in the future."

He said the tenacity of some Iraqi units, which had produced what he called "some terrific firefights," had not come as a surprise and warned that his forces risked more casualties ahead.


Aircraft screamed in low over the Iraqi capital, shaking buildings Monday night with heavy bombing. The attacks followed raids on Sunday night in which one large explosion shook a Ministry of Planning building within the Old Palace, a presidential compound hit in earlier attacks.

It appeared to be the strongest air strikes since Friday night, when Tomahawk missiles rained down on the city of 5 million people, smashing several of Saddam's palaces and government buildings.

Monday morning's attacks were accompanied by calls from a local mosque. The loudspeaker from the mosque's minaret blared, "Allahu Akbar" - "God is great" - and "Thanks be to God."


Near the southern city of Nasiriyah, coalition forces assembled a force of 4,000 to 5,000 troops in preparation of an all-out blitz. "We're going straight through that city," said a U.S. Marine officer who asked not to be identified. "It will be a Hail Mary with guns ablazing."

The city is the key to opening a second route across the Euphrates River and north to Baghdad, located about 225 miles to the north. U.S forces took significant casualties in fighting when they were held up on Sunday by Iraqi irregulars. U.S. commanders said fewer than 10 American soldiers were killed Sunday. Others were wounded, and a dozen were missing.

But a medic who spoke on condition of anonymity told a wire service the overnight toll on allied forces was heavy. "They (U.S. and British troops) are taking a lot more casualties than they (senior officers) are telling the press. That's why you're seeing all these helicopters flying back and forth all night," he said.

"This morning, troops are still meeting pockets of resistance -- cells of snipers -- and they're causing a lot of problems. It is a hairy scene and the Iraqis have put up a good fight."


Farther south, roaming bands of Iraqi soldiers were preying on invasion troops. British troops deployed outside the main southern city of Basra have come under fire from small groups of Iraqi soldiers still hiding out in areas that ere supposed to have already been brought under control. Iraqi militia are putting up resistance with rocket propelled grenades, hand grenades and AK-47 assault rifles.

Power knocked out by fighting in the city has led to a 60 percent reduction in Basra's water supply. On Monday afternoon, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it feared a humanitarian crisis if adequate supplies of drinking water were not restored soon.

Apache helicopter

The U.S. Army lost one of its menacing Apache attack helicopters during a major battle about 100 kilometers south of Baghdad, on Monday in the closest fighting to the Iraqi capital of the war. Iraqi television showed gun-waving Iraqis dancing around a downed Apache. In Qatar, Franks said the two crewmen of one helicopter were missing. Iraqi television later showed images purporting to be the two Americans who piloted the helicopter in captivity -- a move denounced by Washington as a violation of the Geneva Convention. According to CNN and other media, the Apaches were part of an attack on Republican Guard troops.


After a weekend of discussion about a potential Turkish military push into northern Iraq, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization promised on Monday that it would continue to provide support to the Turkish government to protect it from a possible attack from neighboring Iraq. The decision was made after the Turkish ambassador to NATO assured the alliance that his government had no plans to join the war. Fears grew over the weekend that Turkish troops could occupy Northern Iraq because of Turkey's concerns that a Kurdish state could emerge after the war and would renew the armed Kurdish separatism in southeastern Turkey.

Other developments

-- The White House is alleging that Russian companies sold prohibited night-vision goggles, anti-tank missiles and electronic jamming systems that could interfere with the global positioning satellite system used to operate precision U.S. bombs and missiles. On Monday, the White House said President Bush telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to register his protest. However, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov denied that Russia had sold any military equipment to Iraq banned under UN resolutions.

-- The United States issued an apology for the deaths of five Syrian civilians who were killed as their packed bus entered onto a bridge just as it was about to be hit by a U.S. bomb. The Pentagon said the bus was not in view at the time the weapon was unleashed.

-- U.S. forces announced their arrival in Kurdish-run northern Iraq on Monday and, according to wire service reports, began bombing Turkish lines hinting that they may be seeking to open up a new front in the war.

Compiled with information from wire reports.

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