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U.S. Forces Pressing Drive on Baghdad

Some units are reported to be within 19 miles (30 km) of the Iraqi capital. U.S. prisoner of war rescued by special forces in night raid.

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Highway to Baghdad: U.S. Marines head north

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Chris Holden does not mince words when he talks about the fate awaiting Iraqi forces defending the regime of Saddam Hussein. "We are going to destroy them," says Holden, a member of the 101st Airborne Division.

On Wednesday, the 14th day of the war, U.S. forces accelerated their advance on Baghdad with some soldiers nearing the Iraqi capital after dramatic advances across the Tigris River and past the Shi'ite shrine city of Kerbala.

A Reuters correspondent with the U.S. Third Infantry Division said a military source had told him that vanguard units were 19 miles (30 km) from the southern edges of the capital. Forces pushing along the Tigris valley from the southeast were as near as 25 miles (40 km) away, the source said.

The two-pronged offensive was the most stunning advance yet in the 14-day-old war to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. "The dagger is clearly pointed at the heart of the Baghdad regime and will continue to be pointed at the heart of that regime," said U.S. Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks of the U.S. Central Command.

Here is a summary of the day's developments.

American POW, 19, rescued in raid

Acting under the cover of a Marine decoy assault, U.S. special forces rescued a female U.S. Army soldier held captive for 10 days in a midnight raid on an Iraqi hospital, officials said on Wednesday.

Jessica Lynch

Jessica Lynch

The rescued soldier was identified as Private First Class Jessica Lynch, 19, from Palestine, West Virginia. She was with a maintenance convoy ambushed by Iraqi forces on March 23. Capt. Jay La Rossa, spokesman for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said Lynch had two broken legs and one broken arm, but was in good condition.

La Rossa said special forces also found the bodies of two U.S. soldiers and eight Iraqis. He said the Americans were thought to have been among those ambushed with Lynch's group.

Military sources said U.S. Marines staged the decoy attack in Nasiriya to allow special forces to rescue Lynch from the hospital in the southern city where U.S.-led forces have faced stiff resistance from Iraqi fighters.

Lynch was one of 15 soldiers listed missing, captured or killed when a 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company convoy made a wrong turn and came under attack from Iraqi tanks and fighters. Five of the captives, but not Lynch, were shown on Iraqi television as well as the bloodied bodies of up to eight men.

Lynch's father said Wednesday that he initially thought news of her rescue was an April Fool's Day joke. "It was around six o'clock or so. An official called, and we kind of thought at first it was an April Fool's joke," Greg Lynch told NBC television. "But it turned out to be the real thing, and we were just real tickled."

Baghdad Hospital Reportedly Hit in Raid

A series of explosions shook Baghdad during the morning as the southern, western and northwestern outskirts were bombarded. Saddam's main presidential compound in the city came under intensive attack before dawn, as it had for the previous two days.

Bombs crashed into central Baghdad, killing several motorists and hitting a Red Crescent hospital, Reuters correspondent Samia Nakhoul reported. She said that at least five cars had been crushed and that their drivers had burned to death inside.

Hospital sources said at least 25 people, including medical staff and patients, had been wounded in the raids, which also smashed buildings in a trade fair, next to a government security office which was not visibly damaged.

Troops try to eliminate militia threat

U.S. troops attacked Fedayeen militia fighters loyal in the central city of Najaf on Wednesday, drawing return fire from defenders hidden in one of the world's holiest Muslim shrines, U.S. officials said.

U.S. commanders said they did not fire back on the gold-domed Ali Mosque, which is revered by Shi'ite Muslims and contains the tomb of Imam Ali bin Abi Talib -- a cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. But American forces did mount a fierce attack on suspected Fedayeen positions around the city, strafing buildings from A-10 Warthog ground attack planes and calling in British fighter jets to bomb the city's Baath Party headquarters.

U.S. troops then entered the city from the south, north and west, fanning out into sprawling neighborhoods in block-by-block searches for militia fighters.

The U.S. report of shooting at the mosque could not immediately be confirmed by a Reuters correspondent traveling with U.S. forces in Najaf.

Marines seize bridge, highway

U.S. Marines seized a key bridge over the Tigris River in central Iraq on Wednesday and took control of the main Highway 6 from Kut to Baghdad, a senior Marine officer told Reuters. "That's the last big bridge we needed for an advance on Baghdad," the officer told Reuters correspondent Sean Maguire near Kut. "This was the plan. It's been successful."

The move was accompanied by heavy fighting. As a result, the officer said the Baghdad Division of Iraq's Republican Guard, based at Kut, was now "irrelevant." Later, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said the division had been destroyed. But an Iraqi military spokesman said that the division had not been destroyed.

"We haven't had any casualties of note in the fight," the senior Marine said.

He said the Marines had now cut Highway 6 on the north bank of the Tigris from Kut to Baghdad. It was not clear which bridge the Marines had crossed but it seemed it was not in Kut itself, 105 miles southeast of the capital.

Turkey to allow U.S. supply missions

The Turkish government has agreed to let the United States use its territory to resupply U.S. forces in neighboring Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Wednesday.

"We have solved all the outstanding issues with respect to providing supplies through Turkey to those units" in northern Iraq, Powell told a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.

The supplies would mainly be food and fuel, Powell said.

Powell, visiting Turkey to repair damage to relations done by Ankara's refusal to allow U.S. troops to attack Iraq from Turkey, said that U.S. troops airlifted into Kurdish northern Iraq had stabilized the situation and that there was no cause for Turkey to send its troops into the region.

Russia protests bombing near embassy

Russia summoned the U.S. ambassador to Moscow on Wednesday to protest air strikes on Baghdad that it said had endangered its diplomats in the Russian Embassy. The protest is the latest sign of tension between the two former Cold War foes, with the Kremlin denouncing the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as a mistake that could trigger a global crisis.

"The Russian side demanded that American authorities take urgent and exhaustive measures to prevent such dangerous and unacceptable incidents in the future," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement after envoy Alexander Vershbow had been summoned.

A U.S. embassy spokesman said the ambassador had explained that the air strikes on Baghdad used precision-guided weapons and were directed only at Iraqi military targets.

Other developments

  • Coalition forces are setting up a prisoner of war camp meant to hold 100,000 people near the southern Iraqi city of Umm Qasr, the German news magazine Stern reported. Thousands of prisoners are already being held in tents there.
  • The U.N. cultural organization UNESCO said it had received "alarming information" regarding damage caused by allied bombs to Iraqi cultural artifacts in Baghdad, Tikrit and Mosul.
  • Two U.S. Navy aviators have been rescued after their F-14A "Tomcat" crashed because of mechanical failure, said a statement released by the U.S. Central Command in Qatar late Tuesday. A combat search and rescue team successfully recovered the pilot and radar intercept officer on Monday and took them to an allied air base, the statement said. It said initial reports indicated neither crewmember was seriously injured.
  • The United States has suffered 46 deaths so far in the nearly two week old war in Iraq, including 38 troops killed in combat, a Defense Department spokesman said Tuesday. Six were killed in accidents and two were killed in a grenade attack by a fellow soldier, the spokesman said. Iraq says the round-the-clock air raids have killed nearly 650 civilians.

    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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