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Iraqi resistance slows down US-led forces

Coalition forces came within a day's march of Baghdad, but Iraqi resistance slowed their advance.

india Updated: Mar 24, 2003 14:42 IST

Coalition forces came within a day's march of Baghdad, but increasingly dogged Iraqi resistance slowed their advance on Sunday. The Iraqi government put five US Marines it had captured in central Iraq on television.

Washington admitted Special Forces units were already "in and around" Baghdad to "help locate targets and monitor defence preparations." UK military officials added they expected the battle for Baghdad to begin on Tuesday. The coalition was troubled by a "friendly fire" incident in which a RAF Tornado was shot down by a US Patriot missile.

Sunday saw Iraqi troops putting up a more spirited fight and slowing the invading forces' sweep towards Baghdad. Small units of soldiers, mostly elite Republican Guards or Baathist Party paramilitary, used machineguns and grenades to pin down larger coalition forces reluctant to risk casualties.

US and Iraqi forces clashed at Najaf, just 95 miles south of Baghdad. There was also fierce fighting at An Nasiriya, where 11 US Marines were killed or captured in an eight-hour battle with a 500-strong Iraqi force.

About 120 Iraqi soldiers held out for four hours in the southern port of Umm Qasr before being bombed into submission in an operation shown live on television. Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Saeed al Sahhaf praised the Umm Qasr fighters: "The heroic units are fighting the mercenaries and showing them certain death. We have made them enter the quagmire."

The US 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade made a dramatic advance, covering 230 miles in 40 hours, to arrive 100 miles south of Baghdad. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the forces were making "excellent progress" and were on "schedule."

A British defence source told Reuters that the ground assault on Baghdad was expected to begin on Tuesday. "We're looking toward Monday night, Tuesday for the ground offensive on Baghdad. The important thing is not to take [the southern city of] Basra, but to get to the north."

Reports said thousands of Republican Guards were being pulled back into Baghdad for a final showdown in the streets of the Iraqi capital.

The US Central Command said it hoped to engineer the defections or surrender of as much as 20 per cent of the Republican Guards. Contacts with "regards to mass surrenders and surrenders higher up the chain of command," said the US, had "intensified" in the past 24 hours. CIA paramilitary units were also inside Baghdad and were believed to be serving as intermediaries.

In preparation, US carrier-based warplanes repeatedly struck installations of the Republican Guard west of Baghdad on Sunday.

Iraqi television reported Hussein's hometown of Tikrit had been bombed, killing four people. Iraqi officials also said 77 civilians had been killed during weekend bombing of Basra, a figure disputed by the coalition.

Day four: pockets of resistance

An Nasiriya: A force of 500 Iraqi men and armour engage US troops in 8-hours of heavy fighting. 11 US Marines captured or killed

AS Samawa: Heavy fighting and artillery exchange reported as Iraqi army takes on US Third Infantry Division

Umm Qasr: About 120 Iraqis hold out in 4-hour battle with coalition troops. Harrier jets called in to finish off resistance

Basra: Iraqi tanks guarding bridges are pounded by allied aircraft. But coalition forces still do not control city

Najaf: Iraqi troops put up fierce resistance to US forces advancing up the Euphrates. Iraqi TV says local Baath party leader killed

First Published: Mar 24, 2003 09:07 IST