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U.S.-led Charge Across Iraq Stalled by Tough Resistance

Iraqi resistance to the US charge across Iraq was the strongest yet on Sunday, inflicting further casualties and taking prisoners as the U.S. President warned his country not to count on a fast victory.

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U.S. Marine medics treat a wounded American soldier after heavy fighting near Nassiriya

Iraqi forces killed and wounded several U.S. marines on Sunday around the southern city of Nassiriya, in what was regarded as the strongest resistance since the start of the war in Iraq four days ago.

Up to 10 U.S. Marines were killed in a troop carrier attack near Nassiriya. In addition, 12 soldiers from a U.S. Army maintenance unit were unaccounted for, Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid said at a U.S. Central Command briefing in Qatar on Sunday. The 12 are believed to have been captured in an ambush by Iraqi forces outside Nassiriya.

After the attack, the captured soldiers were shown on Iraqi state television. Two of them, including a woman, appeared to have been wounded. Other images showed what was described as the bodies of dead U.S. soldiers, some of them appeared to have been shot in the head. The video was broadcast by Arabic language satellite news channel Al-Jazeera.

Speaking in Washington, the U.S. president said any Iraqi officials involved in the mistreatment of U.S. troops would be "treated as war criminals".

"If there is somebody captured – and it looks like there may be – I expect those people to be treated humanely," he said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the video a breach of the Geneva Convention, which bans subjecting prisoners of war to "public curiosity". Bagdhad has pledged to respect the law.

Rumsfeld was shown a brief extract from the film while being interviewed on American television. In an interview later he said "television networks that carry such pictures are, I would say, doing something very unfortunate".

Fighting was overshadowed by several incidents on Sunday:

Friendly fire

A Royal Air Force Tornado jet was shot down by a U.S. Patriot missile on Sunday in the first reported incident of "friendly" fire in four days of war in Iraq, British officials said. The crew is listed as missing, and the incident is under investigation.

The plane, a Tornado GR4, is a two-seat supersonic attack plane built jointly by Britain, Italy and Germany and was designed to attack Soviet bloc airfields.

The issue of friendly fire is one that can haunt military commanders.

A 1982 U.S. Army Combat studies paper looked at 269 "fratricide" incidents in four modern wars and concluded that friendly fire accounted for "something less than two percent of all battlefield casualties."

But during the first Persian Gulf War, 24 percent of Americans killed (total 35) and 15 percent of those wounded (total 72) were victims of their own forces in 28 incidents.

Grenade attack

The attack occurred about 1:30 a.m. Sunday in the command center of the 101st Division's 1st Brigade at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait. The attacker threw three grenades into three tents, including the command tent, military officials said. The motive in the attack "most likely was resentment," said Max Blumenfeld, a U.S. Army spokesman. He did not elaborate.

The name of the soldier who died was not released because family members had not been notified, said George Heath, civilian spokesman for Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the division's home base.

"Incidents of this nature are abnormalities throughout the Army, specifically in the 101st," Heath said.

The suspect was found hiding in a bunker. He is an engineer from an engineering platoon in the 101st Airborne, said Col. Frederick B. Hodges, commander of the division's 1st Brigade.

Heavy Resistance

U.S. and British warplanes mounting attacks on Iraq are coming under heavy fire from Iraqi defenses on the ground, U.S. and British air force officers said on Sunday.

"It has been dangerous, hard work. The enemy has fired a great deal of anti-aircraft missiles and many surface-to-air missiles at coalition aircraft," U.S Air Force Maj. Gen. Daniel Leaf said.

Leaf, chief air coordinator with land forces, said that over the first four days, U.S and British aircraft had flown 6,000 sorties, 2,000 of those on the first day.

The Iraqis were apparently keeping their depleted but still potent air force -- made up largely of Soviet and French designed craft -- away from clashing, at least yet, with the U.S. and British planes. "We're not aware of any Iraq flight operations at this time, and we'd like to keep it that way," Leaf said.

Advance on Baghdad

Driving night and day, members of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade have reached a point that is less than a day's march from Baghdad. The brigade covered 228 miles in less than 40 hours to take up fighting positions ahead of all U.S. forces, about 100 miles from the Iraqi capital.

But it was more than a fast drive through the desert. Late Saturday, the brigade encountered dozens of Iraqi vehicles mounted with machine guns and fought until dawn Sunday, destroying 15 vehicles, killing at least 100 Iraqi militiamen and capturing 20 prisoners of war.

In this determined off-road march, the brigade's fighting vehicles covered more distance than the entire 100 hours of ground fighting in the 1991 Gulf War.

One British defence sours predicted the battle of Baghdad could begin early this week. "We're looking towards Monday night, Tuesday for the ground offensive on Baghdad," the source told Reuters in London.

He said elite Republican Guards were dug in around the capital. "That will be a tough fight. ...Baghdad is the only one to watch. That is what this is all about," he said.

Iraq said it was looking forward to the invaders' arrival. "We wish that they would come to Baghdad so we can teach this evil administration, and those who work with it, a lesson," said Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

Further Fighting

The Iraqi capital remains the target of a forbidding aerial assault. On Sunday, several more fierce blasts rocked the capital where the United States has been pounding away at key symbols of Saddam's 24-year iron grip on power.

Burned-out vehicles and incinerated bodies littered a plain in central Iraq on Sunday after U.S. forces overwhelmed Iraqi militia fighters south of the Shiite holy city of Najaf, 95 miles (150 kilometers) south of Baghdad. U.S. armored infantry and tanks took control of the plain after a battle of more than seven hours against Iraqi forces who were armed with machine guns mounted on the back of Japanese pick-up trucks.

Irakischer Widerstand versteift sich

A U.S. Marine tank

Farther south, U.S. Marines continued on Sunday to clash with Iraqi fighters around Umm Qasr, Iraq's sole deep-water port on the Persian Gulf. Heavy bursts of gunfire and loud explosions from tank shells resonated across the dusty battlefield on the outskirts of the town as Marines blasted Iraqi positions.

A day after U.S. officials said they had won control of the strategic port, tanks and British jets strafed targets where 120 Republican Guards were reported to be dug in. "It made sense," said a U.S. commander on the spot. "Rather than send men in there, we're just going to destroy it."

Coalition troops want to secure the town so that the port can be used for humanitarian shipments.

Weapons factory finding?

U.S. forces on Sunday found what they believe to be a "huge" chemical weapons factory near the Iraqi city of Najaf, about 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad, according to U.S. networks and the Jerusalem Post.

Fox News and the Jerusalem Post, which had a reporter
traveling with the U.S. forces, cited unidentified Pentagon
officials as saying the facility was seized by the First
Brigade of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division as they
advanced north toward Baghdad.

It was not immediately clear what chemicals were being
produced at the facility. However, both reports said the Iraqis had tried to camouflage the facility to look like the
surrounding desert, in an attempt to avoid it being spotted from the air. The reports have yet to be confirmed by the Pentagon.