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German President Rau Criticizes Bush's Religious Fervor

The German president says weapons inpectors were the right solution to the conflict with Iraq. In the combat zone, U.S. troops kill eight unarmed civilians at checkpoints.

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Cutting loose: A U.S. Army Paladin artillery vehicle fires during a firefight near Najaf, Iraq, last week.

German President Johannes Rau has added his voice to the millions of others expressing harsh criticism of U.S. President George W. Bush and the war he is leading against the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

Johannes Rau Portraitbild

Johannes Rau

In a television interview broadcast on Monday evening, Rau (photo) challenged Bush on a subject that is very close to the U.S. president's heart -- religion. The German president, whose position puts him above the daily skirmishing among Germany's political parties, said the Bible did not call on anyone to conduct crusades. "I don't believe that a people receives a message from God to free another people," Rau said.

He added that Pope John Paul II actually had the right religious approach to the conflict with Iraq. In the days leading up to the fighting, the pope stressed that the war would be a defeat for humanity. "Whoever decides that all peaceful means available under international law are exhausted assumes a grave responsibility before God, his own conscience and history," the Vatican said last month.

Rau said that instead of focusing on a religious approach to the conflict, Bush should have supported the worldly mission of the U.N. weapons inspectors and their search for weapons of mass destruction. "The U.N. inspectors would have accomplished this task without causing this suffering," he said. "That would have been the right way."

The war entered its 13th day with reports about the killing of eight Iraqi civilians by U.S. soldiers and the continued aerial pounding of Saddam's elite Republican Guard near the capital of Baghdad. Here is a summary of major developments.

Seven Civilians Killed at Checkpoint

U.S. troops, fearful of a fresh suicide attack, opened fire on a civilian vehicle at a military checkpoint in Iraq after the driver ignored warnings, a military spokesman said in As-Saliyah, Qatar, on Tuesday. The shots killed seven women and children, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens said. Two other occupants were wounded and four were uninjured.

The shooting occurred at a checkpoint manned by soldiers from the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division at Najaf, 95 miles (150 kilometers) south of Baghdad, on Monday afternoon, Owens said.

He said the victims were in a vehicle that failed to stop despite repeated warning shots fired by U.S. troops. "As a last resort, they (U.S. troops) fired into the passenger compartment of the vehicle," Owens said at the U.S. Central Command's forward planning base in Qatar.

U.S. troops have been on edge because of ambushes and a checkpoint suicide attack on Saturday that killed four comrades near Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad. Iraq, heavily outgunned by the U.S and British forces, promised more suicide attacks would follow.

A statement issued by the Central Command said "initial reports indicate the soldiers responded in accordance with the rules of engagement to protect themselves."

"In light of recent terrorist attacks by the Iraqi regime, the soldiers exercised considerable restraint to avoid the unnecessary loss of life," it said.

Unarmed driver shot at a second checkpoint

U.S. Marines shot dead an unarmed Iraqi driver at a military checkpoint in southern Iraq on Tuesday, just hours after the first shootings.

"I thought it was a suicide bomb," said one of the service members who fired on the vehicle near Shatra, 20 miles from Nasiriya, a city that has seen some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

A couple of hours after daybreak, the man drove his white pickup truck fast toward the roadblock on a main highway, apparently unaware of the barbed wire strewn across the road ahead, Marines told a correspondent at the scene. As he drove straight through the coils of wire, the Marines sprayed his vehicle with bullets, killing the driver and hitting his one middle-aged passenger in the arms and legs. The truck was carrying no load and neither of the men in it was in uniform or armed, the Marines said.

Such shootings pose a problem for U.S. leaders trying to convince the Iraqi population that they are fighting to free them from the dictatorial rule of Saddam. "On the hearts and minds front, the war is still not going particularly well for the coalition," said Alan Dupont of the Strategic and Defense Studies Center at the Australian National University.

Presidential palace targeted again

Intense bombing attacks struck the main presidential palace compound for a second day early Tuesday and the outskirts of the city, where four divisions of Saddam's elite Republican Guard are dug in to defend the capital from any ground attack. Reporters said that the raids were getting worse and that the latest barrage during night seemed to be the heaviest yet to have hit the city center.

The ominous whistle of the missiles was heard in the sky before a series of explosions shook the city, appearing to knock out electricity in entire neighborhoods. Balls of smoke slowly merged into a single cloud overhead. The eerie silence in the aftermath of the raid was broken only by the wail of ambulance sirens, their flashing red lights criss-crossing the main avenue along the river.

Coalition forces say thousands of attack sorties have been carried out since the war began March 20, with 1,000 on Sunday alone. The Iraqi Information Ministry was hit Monday, and domestic television was off air for several hours.

Fight against Republican Guard intensifies

South of the capital, U.S. troops massing for a decisive push toward Saddam's seat of power reported their first serious fighting with Iraq's crack Republican Guard, considered Saddam's most determined military unit and the key to the defense of Baghdad. U.S. officers said on Tuesday that 200 Iraqis were killed, wounded or captured in the clashes that broke out overnight near Karbala, 50 miles from Baghdad.

The fighting occurred as U.S. armored units were making their final plans for a decisive thrust toward Baghdad within a week, commanders said, with forces concentrated near Najaf, to the south.

In Basra, the city seen as key to controlling southeastern Iraq, British troops said they were waiting for reinforcements before making a final push to take the city. British commanders said 600 soldiers backed by tanks and armored vehicles were battling to punch through the town of Abu Al Khasib, about 12 miles southeast of Basra, as British artillery pounded Basra's western edge.

Soldiers surprised by Iraqi tactics

Paratrooper Zach Talraas and his comrades of the 82nd Airborne Division are learning that the war against Iraq is filled with potentially deadly decisions: Who are the civilians or who are the soldiers who just look like civilians?

Talraas and other members of his unit paid a price for such uncertainties this week when Iraqi troops opened fire from a garbage truck and an ambulance. He and some others were wounded in the attack.

"It makes the job a lot tougher. You have to take a second or half a second before you can start firing in reference to determining if a target is hostile or friendly like the ambulance," the private said.

Other U.S. troops deployed around the south-central Iraqi town of Shatra are having a different experience. "It's a lot better than what it was when we first came through there," Lt. Col. Peter Owen said on Tuesday, noting that contacts with the local population were getting markedly better.

"We're seeing that the general consensus is that we are 12 years too late and there is a little bit of resentment, which is why we haven't seen a popular uprising because last time they didn't get support," Owen said.

Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq mounted a rebellion against President Saddam Hussein following the 1991 Gulf War but failed to get Western, and in particular U.S., backing.

"They want to be absolutely sure we are prepared to get rid of the (ruling) Baath party before they commit."

Other developments

-- A Patriot missile intercepted an Iraqi missile before it was able to enter Kuwaiti airspace on Tuesday, a Kuwaiti Defense Ministry spokesman said. 18 missiles have been fired at Kuwait since the start of the war in neighboring Iraq, but they have caused relatively little damage. Two people were slightly injured early Saturday when a low-flying Silkworm missile landed in the sea close to the emirate's largest and most popular waterfront shopping mall.

--The U.S. Army is ending a training program in Hungary for Iraqis hired to help coalition forces in their native country, the military said in a statement released late Monday. The statement gave no reason for the decision to end the program at the base in Taszar.

Compiled by DW-WORLD staff with information from wire services.

Note: Information on troop movements, victims and damage estimates are based on information from parties involved in the war and cannot be independently verified.

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