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Suicide Attack Claims Four Soldiers

A suicide car bombing killed four US soldiers in central Iraq on Saturday, adding a new threat to an invasion campaign already slowed by stiff Iraqi resistance and bad weather.


Media reports suggest U.S. troops have postponed their march into Baghdad.

At least four American soldiers were killed Saturday in the first reported suicide bombing in the 10-day war against Iraq.

The explosion, set off by two men in civilian clothes, happened at a U.S. Army checkpoint near the city Najaf, which is located 150 kilometers south of Baghdad. U.S. military Captain Andrew Wallace said Saturday that the deaths were the first of any troops from the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division.

A taxi stopped near the control post, Wallace said, and the driver asked the soldiers for help. As the four approached, the car exploded. The exact time of the incident was not yet clear.

"Operational Pause"

On Saturday, the U.S. Central Command in Qatar denied there had been any suspension of American troops' forward advance toward Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. "There is no pause on the battlefield,"said U.S. Air Force Major General Gene Renuart. "Just because you see a particular formation pause on the battlefield does not mean there is a pause."

Earlier, British media had reported that the U.S. military on Friday called for a four to six day pause in order to deal with nagging supply problems and stiffer-than-expected opposition from Iraqi fighters.

But British military spokesman Al Lockwood denied reports there had been a suspension of the advance -- even the Pentagon has disputed that, he said.

"With any campaign there are periods where you need to redeploy your troops, you need obviously everything at the peak of fighting ability before you move on to the next objective."

"There will be periods where things will seem quiet on the front, but it is a matter of shaping the battle space, shaping the battlefield, using air power as and where we can to get things to our advantage."

Lockwood also denied reports that British soldiers had been kidnapped near the southern Iraq city of Basra. "There are no British soldiers missing," he said.

Intense fighting continues in Basra

Coalition and Iraqi troops exchanged heavy fire on Saturday in the area around Basra, which has been the site of heavy fighting for several days, wire services are reporting. Arab news station al-Jazeera reported that weapon fire could be heard in the city throughout the night. The heaviest fighting took place in the southeastern part of the populous city, where British soldiers have been holding Iraqi prisoners of war. Al-Jazeera reported that Iraqi troops were firing at coalition espionage planes. American Apache attack helicopters bombed the airport in southwestern Basra, the station reported.

In other developments:

* Cruise missile attacks in Baghdad caused extensive damage to the Iraqi Information Ministry -- destroying a good portion of its roof and satellite and antenna equipment, wire services are reporting.

* Iraqi is reporting that 68 residents of Baghdad have been killed in bombing during the past 24 hours and 107 have been wounded.

* British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac said on Saturday that their countries would work closely together with the United Nations in a post-war Iraq. "They are agreed on the importance of the role of the U.N. after the conflict and want France and Britain to work closely together on the subject," Chirac's office said in a statement.

* Coalition soldiers and supplies continued to arrive in northern Iraq on Saturday and according to a CNN report, a military-controlled airport near the city of Harir is being expanded to accommodate the landing and troops and supplies.

Casualty count:

To date, 34 American soldiers have been killed in the war and 15 have been reported missing. The British have suffered 23 casualties. Iraqi authorities are claiming 589 civilian deaths and 4,582 injured.

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

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