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Resistance Slows Troops as They Head Toward a Battered Baghdad

Capital is bombed for a third day. A U.S. soldier is held in a grenade attack at an Army camp in Kuwait that killed one GI and wounded 12.

March 23, 2003|Geoffrey Mohan and Tyler Marshall | Times Staff Writers

WITH U.S. FORCES IN SOUTHERN IRAQ — Backed by a relentless barrage of air power, U.S. and British troops passed the halfway point early today on their charge to Baghdad, but they were slowed by patches of Iraqi resistance and braced for heavier fighting ahead.

Crossing the Euphrates River on captured bridges, the invading troops fought for an airport in the city of Nasiriyah and said they had captured an airport and bridge on the outskirts of Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.

Iraqi troops fought fiercely in both places and U.S. commanders apparently decided against a street fight for Basra, pushing on instead toward the capital. The U.S. and British troops could reach the capital as early as Monday or Tuesday, U.S. officials said, but are initially expected to ring the city, not necessarily enter it.

There were no reports of casualties among American forces in combat Saturday. But at a rear staging camp in Kuwait, a U.S. serviceman was suspected of attacking fellow members of the 101st Airborne Division today with hand grenades, killing one soldier and injuring at least 12. The serviceman was taken into custody. The motive for the attack "most likely was resentment," Army spokesman Max Blumenfeld said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 28, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
Joint Chiefs of Staff -- Articles in Section A on Sunday and Thursday referred to Army Maj. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is vice director of operations for the group but is not one of its generals.

The 2nd Brigade of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division was battling Iraqi forces shortly after dawn today in several small villages on the outskirts of the city of Najaf, a Shiite holy city 100 miles south of Baghdad on the western bank of the Euphrates.

The brigade's M-1 Abrams tanks fired their main 120-millimeter cannons for the first time since entering Iraq, destroying a walled complex on the outskirts of Najaf where Iraqi forces apparently were located. Iraqi TV said the local leader of Hussein's Arab Socialist Baath Party was killed in the fighting, which bogged down the U.S. troops' northward progress.

The unit, which moved in a 48-hour convoy through Iraq's southern desert, makes up the leading element of a front that stretches nearly 250 miles to Basra in the southeast.

Early today, a British military spokesman at the command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, said an RAF aircraft returning from an operation over Iraq had been declared missing. British military sources said the plane may have been shot down by a U.S. Patriot missile.

Baghdad saw its third straight night of bombing, along with some daylight attacks that suggested the U.S. command was growing more confident of its ability to strike unimpeded.

Still, Maj. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. remained "respectful" of Iraq's defensive capabilities. And he warned that the coalition forces have yet to encounter Iraq's toughest divisions, those of President Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard.

"Bad things could still happen," said Victoria Clarke, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

Commanders of the 1st Marine Division said they expect to be engaging the Republican Guard within the next few days. One senior officer said Iraqi forces were mainly resorting to artillery exchanges, something he called "a tactic of desperation."

"Things are going ahead of schedule for us," said Marine Col. Ben Saylor.

The war claimed the life of at least one journalist, an Australian television cameraman. Paul Moran, 39, was among five people killed in northeastern Iraq when an suicide bomber blew himself up in a vehicle near a camp of the Ansar al Islam group, which is believed to be linked to Al Qaeda.

In a separate incident in southern Iraq, three journalists with Britain's ITN television network were reported missing after coming under fire. Iraqi government officials said three people were killed and at least 250 people, including women and children, injured during a devastating aerial attack on Baghdad late Friday and early Saturday.

In addition, Al Jazeera television, which is shown widely throughout the Arab world, reported that 50 people had been killed in bombing around Basra. It showed video of dead and wounded civilians, interposed with scenes of U.S. missile strikes. The claims could not be confirmed.

Antiwar protests continued in many world cities, with sizable turnouts in London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and Barcelona, Spain. In the United States, there were demonstrations in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago, among other places.

"I wanted my voice to be heard," said jewelry artist Elaine Sonne, who joined a demonstration in Hollywood. "I don't want my country to be a warmonger, but that's what it's become. My representatives don't represent me, so I'm protesting."

Despite the signs of greater Iraqi resistance, the commander of U.S. forces in the gulf, Gen. Tommy Franks, said he was satisfied that the initial phase of the war was unfolding as planned.

"We believe we are on our timeline, and I am satisfied with what I see," Franks told reporters at the U.S. Central Command's regional headquarters in Doha. "Our troops are performing as we would expect -- magnificently."

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