Republican Guards halt allies' advance in Iraq
US troops fought pitched battles with Iraqis near Baghdad late on Monday.Updated: Apr 01, 2003 10:20 IST
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US troops are fighting pitched battles with Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard men as close as 80 km from the Iraqi capital, in advance of the battle for Baghdad late on Monday. Fierce fighting was reported from Hindiya and from Najaf, 30 km further south.
Various US marines units were on Monday reported to have made probing excursions into the 'red zone' that girds Baghdad. Entering this zone could invite Iraqi retaliation through chemical weapons, allied commanders fear.
The fighting closest to Baghdad took place on a bridge over the Euphrates at Hindiya, where 50 Iraqi Republican Guards were reported killed. Another 100-odd were killed in the armour and artillery battles at Najaf, which also claimed two US soldiers.
US commanders said the skirmishes did not suggest an advance towards Baghdad, but an engagement with Saddam's best equipped troops with a view to weaken their divisions. Iraq responded by redeploying Republican Guards from the Nebuchadnezzar division north of the city to close the breach in the south, and to bolster the Medina division fighting US soldiers at Karbala.
US strategists expect a major battle in the Najaf-Hindiya region soon, and hope to set the tone of the war for the near future. Judging by the Iraqi redeployment, Saddam's commanders too seem to be gearing for a big fight.
Monday's battles were accompanied by the most intense bombing since the war began. Early morning sorties targeted the presidential palace used by Saddam's younger son Qusay, the information ministry, and the city centre telephone exchange.
Qusay is in charge of the Fedayeen, which conducted a suicide bombing against US soldiers on Saturday.
The US bombing focused on points south and west of the city, in apparent attempts to soften Republican Guard units between Hindiya and Baghdad.
"It's going to get more difficult as we move closer to Baghdad," US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in Washington. "I would suspect that the most dangerous and difficult days are still ahead of us."
BATTLE FOR BASRA
The battle for Basra has begun in earnest with hundreds of British Royal Marines launching a major assault to secure a suburb southeast of Iraq's southern capital Basra, officers said.
Some 600 men from 40 Commando attacked Abu Al Khasib on Sunday in the first all-out British assault by a full commando force since the Falklands War in 1982 and the operation was to continue on Monday.
It was intended to encourage Saddam Hussein's opponents to rise up against his regime and to show that coalition forces were serious about taking the city, which has resisted since the war began, and toppling his government.
British troops suffered an unknown number of injuries, some serious, although at least 300 enemy prisoners of war were taken and a number of Iraqi tanks, armoured troop carriers and bunkers destroyed.
But the Iraqis in the Basra region counter-attacked later in the day when three patrol vessels attacked a Royal Marine landing craft on the Basra canal, 30 kilometres to the south.
The British vessel was hit and set alight by a rocket-propelled grenade and four of its crew were slightly injured. One of the Iraqi vessels was then hit by British forces with two Milan anti-tank missiles and sunk.
Whereas British forces have staged raids into Basra in Warrior armoured vehicles over the last few days, the infantry assault on Abu Al Khasib was quite different - a direct attempt to secure a significant suburb which houses 30,000 people.
First Published: Apr 01, 2003 00:05 IST