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2003-03-27 - 9:43 p.m.

:::More War News:::

More U.S. troops, armor head to Iraq

(CNN) As President Bush declared the war in Iraq would last "however long it takes to win," the Pentagon announced Thursday 120,000 additional troops were being deployed to the Persian Gulf region.

About 20,000 soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas, were expected to deploy this weekend, Pentagon officials told CNN. Two armored divisions and other units were expected to arrive by early April, they said.

Iraq's information minister said Thursday that Baghdad would be the "graveyard" of coalition forces and they would lose "even if they bring double American troops."

"Americans are now in disarray," Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told Arabic language TV network Al-Jazeera. "They try to engage the world as much as they can and we will continue until they leave our land."

Meanwhile, a barrage of explosions rattled Baghdad shortly after 11 p.m. (3 p.m. EST) Thursday, sending clouds of smoke hundreds of feet into the air and shrouding parts of the city in a thick haze.

It marked some of the strongest explosions in the Iraqi capital since the U.S.-led war began.

Smoke was seen near Iraq's International Communications Center in the heart of Baghdad and part of the building appeared to be on fire.

The explosions were so massive, Pentagon officials in Washington were prompted to say the biggest conventional bomb in the U.S. military's arsenal -- the 21,000-pound MOAB -- was not dropped.

Baghdad residents told Reuters news service the Al Salam presidential palace was among the targets struck. The palace was bombed last week. Residents also told Reuters some military positions on the eastern and southern perimeter of the city had been targeted.

In southern Iraq, 12 U.S. Marines with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force were listed as missing amid fighting around Nasiriya within the past 24 hours, military officials said Thursday.

Eleven of the 12 are from Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, and teams were combing the desert for them. Officials said another 14 Marines from Camp LeJeune were wounded in the fighting around Nasiriya.

In northern Iraq, U.S. troops, tanks and equipment of the 1st Infantry Division are being airlifted into the Kurdish-controlled northern area after about 1,000 paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade jumped in early Thursday and secured Harir airfield near Bashur.

The soldiers will be used to protect Kurdish-controlled areas and can attack Iraqi troops from the north, said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks at a briefing at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar.

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, a CNN analyst and former NATO supreme allied commander, said control of the airfield would allow the coalition to move tanks and other armored vehicles quickly into the region.

Surrender and reinforcements

In central Iraq, six Iraqi men believed to be couriers for the Iraqi paramilitary group Saddam Fedayeen surrendered to members of the 101st Airborne Division after the men became disoriented in a sandstorm and were surrounded by U.S. troops.

The men -- who were not in uniform -- carried a large sum of U.S. money and instructions that may have been meant for Baath party leaders in a nearby town, according to Col. Mike Linnington, a 101st unit commander.

A newly released classified CIA intelligence report warned irregular Iraqi forces could pose the greatest threat to coalition forces, particularly with "hit and run" attacks on supply lines and rear units, U.S. officials said.

After braving nearly constant fire for 72 hours and spending a tense night listening and hoping that friendly B-52 bombers overhead would stop an armored Iraqi column apparently heading their way, the 3rd Squadron, 7th U.S. Cavalry got a break Thursday -- reinforcements and a chance to go to the back of the line for a short respite.

The bombers and ground-based artillery smashed the Iraqi convoy overnight before it could reach the troops northeast of Najaf, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, soldiers in the field told CNN's Walter Rodgers, who is accompanying the 3-7th, the reconnaissance unit of the 3rd Infantry Division.

Iraqi officials, speaking in Baghdad, gave a different version of the fighting around Najaf.

Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed said U.S. forces tried to encircle Najaf but failed to do so when they "sustained heavy casualties."

Officials at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar said Thursday they had no information to support the report that "a large number" of Iraqi vehicles had been headed "anywhere."

U.N. walkout

At Camp David, Maryland, Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair met Thursday for the first time since the start of the war. The two leaders discussed the military effort and plans for the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.

Bush and Blair said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces would be defeated. Bush declared the war would last "however long it takes to win."

Blair said, "There is absolutely no point, in my view, of trying to set a time limit or speculate on it because it's not set by time. It's set by the nature of the job."

Bush and Blair also called on the United Nations immediately to resume the oil-for-food program in Iraq. Gunter Pleuger, Germany's U.N. ambassador, said the Security Council would vote on such a plan Friday.

From Baghdad, Iraq's health minister said Thursday that more than 350 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the war so far, and he accused coalition fighters of targeting them. "Women and children are being attacked, as soldiers are being attacked," he said.

"Most of these martyrs are children, women and old men who could not protect themselves as young men could," Umid Midhat Mubarak told reporters at the Ministry of Information.

The U.S. delegation walked out of a U.N. Security Council meeting Thursday as Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Mohamed Aldouri, accused the United States and Britain of "criminal, barbaric" behavior and military aggression "that is killing women, children and the elderly and destroys the life and the future of the people of Iraq. ...

Speaking outside later, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said, "I'd heard enough. ... I didn't hear anything new and of course don't accept any of the kinds of allegations and preposterous positions that he put forward."

Other developments

U.S. military officials denied a report Thursday that a second helicopter gunship was lost in action in Iraq, but admitted losing an unmanned reconnaissance drone. Earlier, Al-Jazeera showed pictures of what it said was a U.S. Apache helicopter gunship shot down in Iraq.

Coalition airstrikes have destroyed an Iraqi surface-to-surface missile launcher near Basra believed to be primarily responsible for missiles fired against Kuwait, military sources told CNN. Of the 11 missiles fired at Kuwait, most were destroyed by U.S. Patriot missiles, while a few fell harmlessly into the Persian Gulf or the Kuwaiti desert.

British soldiers work to secure a stronghold Thursday in Az Zubayr near Basra in southern Iraq.

No cease-fire is possible in Iraq as long as Saddam remains in power, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday. Rumsfeld spoke to a Senate Appropriations Committee panel considering Bush's request for $74.7 billion in supplemental funding for war-related spending.

The World Health Organization is distributing medicines and other health supplies in northern Iraq and is seeking permits to travel from Baghdad to Basra, where lack of access to clean water threatens the population.

Coalition officials said Thursday Iraqi forces in Najaf and Basra have threatened Iraqis with death if they don't pick up arms against U.S.-led forces. "Iraqi paramilitaries are rounding up children and others from their homes, saying males must fight for the regime or be executed," said Jim Wilkinson, assistant to Central Command leader Tommy Franks.

Antiwar protesters blocked two lanes of traffic and a busy intersection Thursday morning in Midtown Manhattan as part of a planned "die-in." A coalition of antiwar groups broke through police barricades and lay down at 50th Street and Fifth Avenue to act as mock war victims.

A British ship carrying humanitarian aid that was to arrive Thursday at the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr has been delayed a day because of concerns mines may still be in the waterway.

Forty-seven U.S. and British military personnel have been confirmed killed since the conflict began.

CNN Correspondents Christiane Amanpour, Tom Mintier, Steve Nettleton, Thomas Nybo, Nic Robertson, Walter Rodgers, Brent Sadler, Martin Savidge, Barbara Starr and Alessio Vinci contributed to this report.

**********

Iraqi Militia Pin Down U.S.-Led Forces in South
By Michael Georgy and Rosalind Russell

World - Reuters

Iraqi Militia Pin Down U.S.-Led Forces in South

Thu Mar 27, 1:49 PM ET Add World - Reuters to My Yahoo!

By Michael Georgy and Rosalind Russell

AL-ZUBAYR, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi militias are pinning down U.S.-led forces in southern Iraq, trapping civilians in the crossfire and thwarting the invaders' bid to advance on main cities.

While many people in southern Iraq have little sympathy for President Saddam Hussein, they are increasing angered by the chaos they blame on troops sent in an operation dubbed "Iraqi Freedom" by President Bush.

"We live in fear at night," said Om Talal, 40, her youngest child at her feet in the southern town of Al-Zubayr. "Already two of our houses have been destroyed. Why must they fire on our houses and kill civilians?"

It is a scene repeated across southern Iraq, where only the port city of Umm Qasr has been captured by U.S.-led forces who launched a thunderous ground assault a week ago with the aim of toppling Saddam.

Everywhere the operations on hide-outs of pro-Saddam militiamen, in small groups and mixing with the local population, are sapping U.S. and British firepower. Residents say as many as 15 civilians have been killed in al-Zubayr.

Tanks, which were expected to roll into the main southern city of Basra early in the war, are bogged down in battles in civilian neighborhoods with a few Saddam loyalists proving strong enough to hold back the invasion.

On Thursday, British tank fire was trained on a house on the outskirts of al-Zubayr, 13 miles south of Basra as troops attacked armed with machine-gun fire and grenades.

MILITIA HOLED UP

British soldiers from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment said militiamen were holed up in the densely populated town of flat-roofed cement houses.

"We're targeting some militia holed up in that house over there," said tank commander Sgt. Jeremy Rendle, looking across the dusty scrub as plumes of gray smoke rose from the town. "We just have to take it bit by bit."

The operation took several hours, leaving fleeing civilians stranded at a nearby intersection, spectators to the destruction of their own neighborhood .

Some took the chance to gather empty green ammunition boxes to use as firewood. Others simply stood and stared, listening to the steady thump of explosions, and the distant crackle of return fire from militiamen armed with AK-47 rifles.

"We have no water, no electricity," said Abdullah Falih. "We don't know when this is going to end."

U.S. and British troops have encircled both Basra and al-Zubayr, but have kept to positions about two miles away.

A line of rickety cars and trucks, some loaded with tomatoes and onions, lined up at the British-guarded intersection, waiting for the fighting to subside.

Residents of al-Zubayr say the resistance is coming mainly from poorly armed members of Saddam's ruling Baath party, rather than Iraq's regular army or elite Republican Guard.

They know who they are and where they live, but none dared give such information to coalition forces for fear of reprisals.

**********

Tough U.S. Advance Leaves Iraq Bus Full of Corpses
Thu March 27, 2003 09:56 AM ET
By Sean Maguire

QAL'AT SUKKAR, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. Marines treated enemy wounded Thursday and searched the blood-stained luggage of Iraqis killed inside a bus by advancing armored units.

Reporters counted four corpses outside the bus and Marines said another 16 lay inside. All the dead were adult men, wearing a mixture of civilian and military clothing and had papers that appeared to identify them as Iraqi Republican Guard.

The Marines searched the luggage for weapons, but one told Reuters that all that was found were two small handguns.

Two men who survived the attack, which appeared to have taken place Wednesday, were being tended by Marine medics and being prepared for evacuation to a hospital. Other survivors had apparently escaped into nearby fields and palm tree plantations.

One Marine picked up a wallet. Inside were wedding pictures, an army membership card and a picture of the England World Cup soccer team.

Cannon and machine-gun fire had peppered the bus with holes, killing most of the passengers in their seats.

The grisly remains were evidence of the ruthless efficiency with which lead Marine units are clearing the road north of the central city of Nassiriya to make way for a huge military convoy.

Reporters have seen more than a dozen burned-out trucks and buses and the corpses of at least 60 Iraqi men lying beside them during a three-day push out of Nassariya, where Marines suffered up to 10 fatalities during ambushes on Saturday.

The U.S. deaths, the largest daily toll so far in the week-old war, have put the Marines on the defensive. Since the weekend they have laid down heavy covering fire as they go through towns, while insisting they are taking care to spare civilians.

Pick-up trucks with Iraqi families have been seen on the road, untouched by the fast-moving, scouting vehicles that have picked off the trucks and buses with their heavy cannon and machine-guns. But civilians have died in cross-fire in towns.

It was impossible for reporters to see if any of the drivers or passengers killed in the road attacks were civilians. U.S. officers said they believed the dead were men being sent to defend Iraqi towns.

IRREGULAR FORCES' THREAT

U.S. officers inside this small town 140 miles southeast of Baghdad said the threat they faced from irregular forces trying to ambush U.S. and British troops required an aggressive approach.

Brig. Gen. John Kelly, visiting the front-line forces, told Reuters he had himself seen armed men exiting civilian buses.

"That's the problem we face here. We have very little time to decide if a truck or bus is going to be hostile," he said.

The Marines were attacked by an apparent suicide truck bomb in Nassiriya over the weekend, he said. The vehicle blew up with an enormous blast when shots were fired into it.

The "rules of engagement" for the U.S./British invasion of Iraq normally require clear evidence a target is of a military nature or is armed and hostile before it can be fired upon.

Resistance by Iraqi irregular non-uniformed units have slowed the Marine advance and forced them into skirmishes in urban areas that they would have preferred to avoid. But Kelly said the hold-ups were not dramatic.

"We were delayed a little but we're basically on our timeline," he said.

Marine forces are heading north toward Kut, a major city on the Tigris river some 105 miles southeast of Baghdad, in an apparent bid to pressure the capital from its eastern flanks. Kut was the scene of a major British defeat in World War I.

Much larger and more heavily armored army and Marine forces are massing west and south of the Iraqi capital as the U.S. and British forces press on with their week-old campaign to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Kelly said Iraqi civilians have generally been "very positive" toward the invasion force.

But the Marine defensive tactics used in Qal'at Sukkar and other towns, where houses fronting main streets were raked with fire and tall buildings singled out for a pounding as potential observation posts, will have won them few friends.

As the convoy left Qal'at Sukkar on Thursday a large crowd of Iraqi men and children gathered on the main highway behind them. The crowd said nothing, just silently watched as their violent overnight guests departed.

**********

About 30 Marines wounded in friendly fire

By Pamela Hess
Pentagon correspondent
From the International Desk
Published 3/27/2003 4:37 PM

WASHINGTON, March 27 (UPI) -- Around 30 Marines were wounded by apparent "friendly fire" in a 90-minute battle Wednesday near an Nasiriyah, according to embedded reporters and Central Command officials.

Shells fired from a distance by one Marine unit fell on the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, NBC News reported. The unit had fired the shells when the 2nd Battalion called for support after coming under fire from Iraq irregular troops, according to NBC, which has a reporter embedded with the battalion.

U.S. Central Command acknowledges some friendly fire injuries in the unit but hasn't yet released details.

During the 1991 Gulf War, 35 American soldiers died in friendly fire incidents. A total of 146 Americans were killed in action.

With the weather clearing, the 3rd Infantry Division is bracing for what is expected to be the first major ground clash with the Republican Guard near Karbala south of Baghdad, U.S. officials said Thursday.

"The land component remains on track and continues its advance beyond Diwaniyah east of An Najaf," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, Central Command's spokesman in Qatar, said Thursday.

What was expected to be a massive fight Wednesday turned out to be just a few vehicles moving south from Baghdad, most of which were destroyed by coalition aircraft and ground forces.

Reports that a major Iraqi column was moving south Wednesday from Baghdad to reinforce an Nasiriyah and an Najaf under cover of a sandstorm were overstated, said Brooks.

"The reality was there were not some large number of vehicles. We heard reports between hundreds and thousands. That was not the case at all," Brooks said.

The reports were based on an erroneous electronic signal, most likely to an airborne JSTARS ground surveillance plane equipped with a "moving target indicator." The signal was erroneous, but it was received by military intelligence officials on the ground and was reported up the chain of command.

"It also got released to the world, because we have embedded media, and they were reporting what the unit was sensing at that time; a very classic example of how the world looks from down on the line," Brooks said.

It was a classic example of the metaphorical "fog of war," which in this case was complicated by a massive swirling sandstorm that kept scout helicopters grounded and ground troops hunkered down.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers told reporters Wednesday night the massive column was just a few vehicles and they were being targeted by U.S. aircraft.

Also Wednesday, a column of tanks broke out of Basra, which is ringed by British troops. The armored column of about 20 vehicles was destroyed, according to Air Marshal Brian Burridge, commander of British forces in the Gulf.

"Having established that these forces were not trying to surrender, U.K. forces took swift and decisive action against this threat, destroying a number, through a mixture of artillery and coalition airpower," Burridge said.

"You can tell from the way they're dispossessed operationally that this isn't a fighting formation that really knows its business. That's the way it is. It is disorganized, but there is someone in there trying to organize it," Burridge said.

Brooks acknowledged Thursday that some soldiers of the 51st Division -- whose commander reportedly surrendered to American forces over last weekend -- are fighting in Basra. He contended it is literally under the gun, however.

Brooks said that in some cases, the soldiers have turned on the irregular forces and killed them.

The column was manned by a mix of irregular troops and regular soldiers -- possibly some from the 51st Division.

"On the surrender of the 51st, yes, they did follow the instructions of the coalition. And that was a matter of choice, and we applaud their choice. They were pressed back into service, as best we can tell, by the paramilitaries, the terroristic-behaving organizations of this regime. That was not by choice," he said.

"We believe that some of them made yet another choice, which was to put an end to that type of behavior. And we applaud that choice as well."

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the Saddam Fedayeen forces "vicious" Thursday. Speaking briefly to reporters after testifying to a Senate panel, Rumsfeld said there are between 5,000 and 20,000 Fedayeen in Iraq.

"They go into the cities and shoot people and threaten people and insist that they not surrender and not rise up. And they're vicious. They left somebody in the center of Baghdad not too long ago with his tongue pulled out until he bled to death, cut his tongue out. And they're ... executing people in Basra," he said.

On Tuesday, the 1st U.K. Armored Division destroyed 11 heavy mortars, firing on them from inside Basra, as well as some D-30 artillery and some T-55 tanks, according to Burridge.

About 30,000 members of the 4th Infantry Division are en route to Kuwait.

On Wednesday 1,000 paratroopers with the 173rd Airborne Brigade out of Vicenza, Italy, parachuted into northern Iraq. They are the leading edge of what is expected to be a northern front on the war. They join several hundred Special Forces operating there.

Rumsfeld denied Wednesday that the entry of new forces represented a change in plans or an admission that the 250,000 U.S. troops committed to the war are not sufficient. He said the force flow had been planned all along, as it takes months to get troops mobilized and deployed.

Brooks reiterated the confidence Central Command has in its force.

"The reality is, we have adequate force to do what we need to do, and we remain satisfied with that," he said.

A senior defense official said this week by the time the war is over, the military is likely to have moved 340,000 troops through the combat region, as it relieves soldiers on the ground.

Brooks continued to deflect Iraqi charges that the Untied States bombed a marketplace in northern Baghdad, killing as many as 14. He said Central Command is reviewing its flight plans to see whether it was possible, but a more likely scenario is that the damage was done by an Iraqi missile falling back to earth or on purpose by Saddam's regime.

"We're seeing indications where many of the problems that we see where civilians are being reported being killed happen to be in Shia populations. There may be a pattern there. I'll let you draw your own conclusion," Brooks said.

A humanitarian aid ship, the Sir Galahad, has been delayed getting into Umm Qasr because coalition forces have found mines buried on the sea floor.

"Last night, U.K. mine hunters discovered and then detonated two mines outside the swept shipping channel. This proves beyond doubt that Saddam's regime has attempted to stop essential stores and humanitarian supplies from being delivered to his own people," said Burridge.

Brooks said the mines were "bottom-influenced" and programmed to count a certain number of hulls before detonating.

These sorts of mines reduce confidence in waterways; a ship captain cannot depend on a waterway being cleared even if other ships are operating safely. They are also useful tactically as they can destroy a vessel in the middle of a convoy, cutting off ships to the front and the back and generally causing confusion and a halt.

Brooks said the mines are based on foreign technology whose origin he didn't identify, but he said they were developed by Iraq, which he suggested was violation of U.N. sanctions.

"We believe that these have been developed since the imposition of sanctions. Before 1991, Iraq did not have these," he said.

Six oil wells continue to burn in the southern Rumailyah oil field. Burridge said it will cost around $1 billion to repair the field and get it producing to its capacity of about 1.8 million barrels per day.

He said oil could be exported within three months.

Also, 40 Iraqi expatriates have joined U.S. civil affairs units coordinating the delivery of humanitarian aid, Brooks said. They are called "Free Iraqi Forces" and were trained for four weeks in Hungary before joining the units.

Burridge Thursday lashed out at al-Jazeera television, the Qatar-based satellite network, which Wednesday broadcast close-up images of dead British soldiers. The families of the soldiers had not yet been notified of their deaths.

"The decision by al-Jazeera to broadcast such material is deplorable, and we call on them to desist from future broadcasts of such a nature," Burridge said. "All media outlets must be aware of the limits of taste and decency and be wary that they do not unwittingly become the tools of the Iraqi regime."

Copyright 2001-2003 United Press International

**********

Jubilation turns to hate as aid arrives

Burhan Wazir in Az Zubayr, Iraq
Thursday March 27, 2003
The Guardian

The young man wearing the brown shawl summed it up succinctly: "We want you to go back home. We do not want your American and British aid," he said, his eyes flashing with anger.

If the British humanitarian taskforce had any doubts as to the legitimacy of his claims, the sudden burst of gunfire from a nearby building left no one in any doubt.

The first attempt to deliver aid to the Iraqi people was, in all respects, a practical and logistical disaster. A convoy of vehicles, including two water tankers and as many Warrior armoured vehicles, had set off from the abandoned Shaiba airfield earlier. The intent was to deliver food and water to win over the hearts and minds of the beleaguered Iraqis.

As the convoy pulled up inside the town, however, a crowd of predominantly young men ran towards it. Fights and skirmishes broke out for bottles of water. Iraqis asked for food and cigarettes. And while a cordon was quickly created, hundreds rushed towards the trucks, overpowering the soldiers.

"We have had no water and no food," said Ali Abdullah, 50. He stood away from the crowd, stroking his beard and surveyed the scene intently as crowds of young men fought over the water.

"For five days now, we have been without electricity. Have you brought some electricity?"

The exercise had been beset with a number of difficulties from the outset. On leaving the nearby Shaiba airfield - a series of abandoned hangars, runways and outbuildings on the road to Basra - there had been innumerable delays as reports of violence filtered back from Zubayr. Earlier, there had been a delay in confirming security in the town.

Inside Zubayr, however, the distribution initially began with good nature. Young men joked with each other, smiled and passed around bottles of water. Within 10 minutes, however, an undercurrent of resentment flowed to the surface. The war, the bombing, sanctions and their cumulative toll all boiled over.

Jalil Ali, 25, the young Iraqi in the brown shawl, asked if any of the humanitarian aid was being provided by Americans.

"Take it back," he yelled, pretending to push it away. "We want the Americans to go back home. We do not need them here. Go back home. I do not need this."

Around him, his friends giggled. Not far away, people rushed out of earthen buildings and raced down a dual carriageway. Ali, however, seemed to realise the irony only too well. "They bomb. And now they want to give water and food. How can they do both? How?" It was then that the gunfire erupted.

Earlier, the soldiers had been optimistic but pensive. After enduring a rainy and windy night in the disused hangar at the Shaiba airfield, the convoy had been well intentioned. It was a curious sight: a line of trucks bearing much-needed humani tarian aid - aid that betrayed all the hallmarks of an occupying force, but aid none the less. The Iraqis, while initially jubilant, were quickly sceptical.

"I need electricity," said Moyed Abdullah, 33. "I need to power my house. See the electricity lines? They are not working; they have not been working for days. Do you bring any electricity?"

Around him, British and US soldiers struggled to control the crowds. Time and again, the Iraqis were pushed back - always, they seemed to slip in under the makeshift rope-line. After a while, it seemed, it was better simply to stand back and wait for the inevitable to happen.

The burst of gunfire from across the road finally stopped all attempts to supply the aid. As soldiers leapt into the jeeps, a Warrior turned round and took out the position the gunfire had come from. And with daylight fast fading, the humanitarian taskforce decided to speed back to its base at Shaibah airfield.

Tomorrow, they will undoubtedly try again to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi civilians. And presumably tomorrow, they will encounter yet more resentment.

**********

Day seven of war

Wednesday March 26, 2003

All times are GMT

2330: About 1,000 members of the US Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade parachute into northern Iraq. In the first major troop deployment in the region, they seize control of an airfield

2300: A column of 1,000 Iraqi Republican Guards continues to head south out of Baghdad towards US forces.

2215: Tony Blair touches down in Maryland en route to meet President Bush to discuss the course of the war so far.

2100: Twenty US marines are injured after Iraqis launch rocket attack on coalition forces south of Nasirriya.

2045: UN secretary general Kofi Annan says people around the world are questioning the legitimacy of the war against Iraq. UN security council opens emergency session on the conflict.

2030: Two separate convoys of Iraqi tanks continue their journeys south from Baghdad and Basra to confront coalition forces.

2000: Heavy explosions reported in Baghdad.

1930: US military officials deny deliberately targeting market in the Shaab district of Baghdad.

1630: Fresh wave of air attacks reported in southern Baghdad, where units of Iraq's Republican Guard are believed to be deployed.

1550: President Bush says US-British forces are making "good progress" and Saddam's "day of reckoning" is drawing near.

1530: Footage screened on al-Jazeera purports to show dead British soldiers and POWs.

1315: The US general Vincent Brooks says he is not certain that coalition forces were responsible for a market bombing in north Baghdad.

1300: The defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, says the risk of civilian casualties will increase.

1200: Tony Blair tells Commons that troops must be ready to support any uprising by the Iraqi people.

1120: Iraqi defence officials say that two cruise missiles have struck the residential area of Baghdad, killing 12.

1020: Iraq says that a US raid has hit a busy market in north Baghdad, causing "many, many casualties".

1000: The Pope issues a fresh call for peace in Iraq, saying his "heart is oppressed" by news reports from the country.

0920: Iraq's international TV satellite channel, which coalition forces believed had been knocked out in early morning raids, resumes broadcasting.

0810: The head of Turkey's armed forces hints that Turkey may abandon plans, strongly opposed by the US, to send its troops into northern Iraq.

0800: Fresh air raids rock Baghdad.

0740: The Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, rubbishes US claims that its forces are "liberating" Iraq.

0720: The defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, says Iraq's state-run network was targeted as part of Saddam Hussein's "military command and control structure".

0610: US planes pound frontline Iraqi positions near the town of Chamchamal in the Kurdish-controlled north of the country.

0600: State-run Iraqi TV resumes broadcasting.

0345: US claims that the latest round of strikes has disabled the Iraqi state-run television channel.

0250: Dawn raid on Baghdad continues. Reuters now puts the number of explosions at 31.

0230: Twenty-four explosions hit the southern outskirts of Iraq as dawn breaks over the city. Smoke is seen rising from the area of the city where the ministry of information and television station are situated.

**********

US admits '8,000 Iraqis captured' claim was false

The US military has been forced to admit the 8,000 Iraqi soldiers they claimed to have captured last week are now battling British forces.

Iraq's 51st Infantry Division, which has about 200 tanks, is now engaged in the southern city of Basra.

The Pentagon is claiming the confusion is the work of the Fedayeen Saddam - Saddam Hussein's most trusted paramilitary unit.

The US is accusing it of organising the tactic of posing as civilians and faking surrenders.

Defence Department officials reported on Friday that they had won the surrender of the entire 51st Division, a regular Iraqi army unit deployed in southern Iraq to defend Basra, the nation's second largest city.

On Saturday, officials backtracked, saying they had only taken a couple of commanders and the rest of the men had "melted away" - a term used for those who laid down their arms and returned home.

On Monday there were reports that one of the "commanders" turned out to be a junior official who misrepresented his rank in hopes of getting better treatment.

Then on Tuesday, British forces reported a tank battle with elements of the 51st outside of Basra. Asked about the confusion, the Pentagon said the division's equipment was taken over by the Fedayeen and possibly members of Saddam's Republican Guard, his best-trained troops.

"Some of their equipment may have been used by the Fedayeen perhaps, or other folks that Fedayeen brought with them," a Pentagon spokesman said.

Story filed: 07:09 Wednesday 26th March 2003

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More than 135 countries demand end to Iraq war

More than 20 Arab countries and 115 other nations have demanded an end to the US-led war against Iraq.

They have called on the United Nations Security Council to break its silence and find a way to return to peaceful methods for disarming Saddam Hussein.

Secretary General Kofi Annan opened the security council meeting by expressing regret efforts to avert war had failed.

He said the warring parties must now ensure the protection of civilians, those injured in the conflict, and prisoners of war, as well the safe distribution of vital humanitarian aid.

"The inability of the council to agree earlier on a collective course of action places an even greater burden on you today.

"We all want to see this war brought to an end as soon as possible," he said. "But while it continues it is essential that everything be done to protect the civilian population, as well as the wounded and the prisoners of war on both sides, and to bring relief to the victims."

The 22-member Arab Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, which represents about 115 mainly developing countries, had asked for the meeting to denounce the military action.

But they did not introduce a resolution demanding a halt to the fighting and withdrawal of all foreign forces, apparently out of concern that it would not be passed.

In an interview with al-Jazeera, US Secretary of State Colin Powell rejected any move Arab nations might make for a UN ceasefire resolution.

"We will watch it carefully, but right now our policy is to continue to prosecute this conflict until we can bring it to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible and then get about the task of rebuilding Iraq," Powell said.

Associated Press

Story filed: 07:17 Thursday 27th March 2003

Preventive War Opens Way to New Rules on Conflict
Thu March 27, 2003 02:05 AM ET
By Jane Macartney, Asian Diplomatic Correspondent

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - It sounds like an arcane debate among wordsmiths. But the distinction between pre-emptive and preventive war, drawn by President Bush in ordering the U.S. invasion of Iraq, could change the face of war.

Galvanized since the September 11 attacks by a need to protect the homeland, Bush has tossed aside, if not quite torn up, the U.N. Charter on war.

Strict conditions exist to undertake pre-emptive war and Bush has bypassed those to launch a preventive war, analysts say.

In simple terms: imagine a row with your neighbor over an overhanging branch. You see him advancing on the bough with his buzzsaw running. You may pre-empt his attack.

But if you just suspect he's been to the hardware store to buy a saw, you may not burn down his garden shed to prevent him taking a slice out of the disputed greenery.

Bush's preventive action is an innovation in contemporary history and opens the way for others to follow suit.

"While it is not true that the U.S. has been able to establish a new norm of prevention, other expedient states may use the U.S. action as justification, even though they are likely to be roundly condemned," said Chris Reus-Smidt of the Department of International Relations at the Australian National University in Canberra.

WHO WOULD DARE?

There is reason to doubt whether any state would have the courage to take on such condemnation. But many may feel they are next in the firing line.

Thus the ramifications are far-reaching, not just for countries with perceived enemies on their borders such as India and Pakistan, but also for Iran and North Korea -- the two nations that Bush bracketed with Iraq in his "axis of evil."

"This is tectonic," said Uday Bhaskar of the Institute of Defense Studies and Analyzes in New Delhi.

"Before March 20 there had been a sense since the end of World War II to the end of the Cold War that a certain consensus existed about the use of force and how that should be regulated.

"It sets a precedent," he said. "This is a threat to stability, an action that induces anxiety. The question is why can't it be a France next time, or an India?"

Analysts fear that the period of relative peace since the birth of the United Nations after World War II, with its strict charter injunction against the use of force, could now be in serious jeopardy.

"The doctrine of pre-emptive war has profoundly destabilizing implications for international society," said Reus-Smidt.

"The legal restriction of the use of force to unequivocal acts of self-defense and international peace enforcement actions is one of the principal reasons for the radical decline in interstate wars, even as the number of states has multiplied."

WHERE ARE THE LIMITS?

Few nations have flouted the U.N. charter that lays out specific conditions for the use of pre-emptive force. Two extraordinary exceptions are Israel's 1981 strike on Iraq's OsIrak nuclear plant and the 1967 Six Day War, said Reus-Smidt.

"The major innovation of the Bush doctrine is the idea of prevention, and the war in Iraq can be seen as the first example of this," said Reus-Smidt.

He said Washington, rebuffed in the U.N. Security Council in its quest for world backing to pre-empt Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons program, had opted to act preventively.

That opens a Pandora's Box.

"It's not clear what the limits are," said Hilary Charlesworth, professor at the Center for International and Public Law at the ANU.

"This leaves the perception of threat in the eye of the beholder."

It reinforces fears of the United States going it alone, snubbing the international community when it suits it, for example on the Kyoto treaty on global warming or the International Criminal Court.

The United States has acted as other countries have throughout history, which is to look for the international law that suits them. And it was that free-for-all approach that the U.N. charter was aimed at halting.

"We could be going back to a pre-U.N. charter world and I find that worrying," said Charlesworth.

Of course, what goes unspoken is that the United States regards itself as an exception, and knows that it can probably get away with a preventive war because it has more toys, and more powerful ones, than anyone else in the playground.

MORE SACRED THAN OTHERS

"The related political and diplomatic question is 'are we redefining sovereignty?"' said Bhaskar. "It's an Orwellian kind of sovereignty in which some are more sacred than others."

Analysts believe that deterrence may work in this new world, and thus a nuclear-ambitious North Korea may not be next. But what, asked one, would stop China taking a swipe at Taiwan?

"What will be the restraints?" said Charlesworth. "International law is enforced by a sense of reciprocity and this is doing away with the fabric of international law."

Some say international law may have to change to ensure relevance in a world threatened by rogue states and suicide hijackers.

When Osama bin Laden's Islamic revolutionaries flew planes into the World Trade Center, they may not only have transformed the course of history, but have wrought upheaval in the rules of war.

"After September 11, in a world in which unprovoked acts of terrorism could cost hundreds of thousands of lives, deterrence and passive self-defense are not enough," The Australian newspaper wrote in an editorial on Thursday.

That is a view that may hold sway at the Pentagon and in the White House, but stirs anxiety among legal and defense experts.

"What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," said Bhaskar. While other countries may lack the will, or indeed the might, to follow in U.S. footsteps they may be sorely tempted.

"The net effect of all of this is that it greatly increases the risk of wars, preventive and pre-emptive," said Reus-Smidt.

**********

Few in Safwan want to forgive, forget

Safwan, Iraq The Iraqi teenager pointed to the stains on the chest of his robe. "See," he said. "They shot my brother, and this is his blood."

Few people in Safwan are willing to forgive and forget. As many as a dozen people were killed here at the start of the war, when U.S. and British forces bombarded the town and headed northward toward Basra. The deaths have provided an easy propaganda victory for the Saddam Hussein loyalists, who still hold considerable influence here.

"The British troops are shooting civilians," said Kathem Sajed, a man who heaped praise on Mr. Hussein for "spoiling" the town with a surplus of food rations over the past six months.

"They're killing women and children," he said. "This morning some people were trying to earn their living, and British troops started shooting them."

His accusation could not be confirmed. The fact that he made it in public, without fear of contradiction to the general approval of civilians, and only a couple of metres away from a British soldier who was watching showed that the U.S.-led coalition is failing to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

The mood in southern Iraq is still cautious and tense. Even four days after the capture of Safwan and its nearby oil fields, local farmers are still flying white flags above their battered old cars and trucks, just to make sure they are not the next target of a U.S. or British attack.

The children of Safwan are still excited to see the military convoys rumbling through their desolate border town every day. They wave and leap eagerly, hoping the soldiers will toss them a pack of cigarettes or chewing gum.

Despite the buzz of excitement, though, many of Safwan's people are deeply worried about the lawlessness and the shortages of food that could emerge soon if they don't receive enough humanitarian aid.

"We have no police, no government," said one Iraqi man who refused to give his name. "They ran away at the beginning of the war. We have no security. We don't have any electricity or running water."

At a farm on the outskirts of Safwan, former Iraqi soldier Mohammed Hashem has mixed feelings about the U.S.-led invasion. He is no fan of Saddam Hussein. Most people in southern Iraq hate the dictator, he said. Yet he worries that the U.S. troops could impose their values on his country, jeopardizing its Islamic culture.

He also has a personal reason to be cautious about the invading armies. His father was shot by the coalition forces in the chaos of the early hours when they attacked Safwan last week.

Mr. Hashem was a reservist in the Iraqi army. He says he deserted on the eve of the war.

"Our army is weak and hungry," he said. "Often our meals were just a piece of bread."

Despite those conditions, he expects a fierce battle against the Anglo-American forces by many of Iraq's soldiers, especially by elite forces such as the Republican Guard.

"Saddam Hussein takes care of them, and they understand that when he goes down, they go down," he said. "The soldiers are afraid of the generals, and the generals know that when Saddam falls, they will fall."

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