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2003-03-28 - 5:31 p.m.

:::Illegal War Updates:::

US warns Syria over Iraq
By Our International Staff
Published: March 28 2003 2:32 | Last Updated: March 28 2003 17:40

The US said on Friday night military supplies that threatened the lives of American forces were being shipped to Iraq from Syria and told Damascus it would be held accountable for "hostile acts."

In a dramatic warning to Iraq's neighbours, Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, also said any Iranian-backed forces operating inside Iraq would be treated as enemy forces.

Mr Rumsfeld said military supplies, including night-vision equipment, were being shipped across the Syrian border to Iraqi troops.

"We consider such trafficking hostile acts," he said, adding that the Bush administration would "hold the Syrian government responsible" for the shipments. He said such action "vastly complicates" the US military operation.

Mr Rumsfeld did not accuse the Syrian government of supplying the materiel. Asked if the US was threatening military action against Syria, Mr Rumsfeld said: "I'm saying exactly what I'm saying. It was carefully phrased."

He also said Iraqi Shia militia based in Iran would be treated as enemy forces if they crossed into Iraq. The Iraqi Shia forces, which are associated with the Iraqi exile group SCIRI and backed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, have already started crossing into northern Iraq, where they have close ties with Kurdish opposition groups. Mr Rumsfeld said he would hold Iran accountable for movements by the militia, called the Badr brigade.

Much of the international opposition to the war was based on fears that invading Iraq could lead to a dangerous break up of the country - and could destabilise the volatile Middle East region by spilling over into neighbouring countries.

The surprise developments came at the end of a week in which relentless aerial pounding of Baghdad, in which significant numbers of civilians have been killed, hasprovoked rising anger across the Middle East about the war.Syria and Iran have both condemned the US-led attack on Iraq.

Reports from Baghdad said as many as 55 people had been killed in an air raid on the capital on Friday, two days after up to 20 were reported killed when a busy street was hit.

Tenacious resistance by Iraqi forces, which have tied down US and British forces advancing on Baghdad in a number of places, has also been cheered enthusiastically by demonstrators in many Arab countries.

Although the US is anxious to see the majority Shia population in Iraq join forces with the assault on Saddam Hussein's regime by rebelling, it is deeply wary of any interference by Iran.

Tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran on Friday for the first time since the US and Britain launched their invasion of Iraq, in an officially sanctioned rally that saw some protesters break windows in the British embassy.

In Syria demonstrations have been limited but the state-controlled media have lashed out at "British-American aggression on Iraq".

Bashar el-Assad, the young Syrian president who resisted US pressure to cast his country's Security Council vote in favour of the war in Iraq, has called on Arab countries not to assist coalition troops.

In a clear sign of the growing nervousness in Damascus, Mr Assad has said he believes Syria may be next on Washington's list of countries where it would like to see regime change. The warning to the Syrians about night-vision goggles comes just days after the Bush administration admonished the Russian government for failing to prevent private Russian companies from providing Iraq with such equipment.

Earlier on Friday, a British ship carrying 650 tonnes of food and water finally docked at Iraq's main port yesterday, the first delivery of humanitarian aid that US and British commanders hope will win over local support for the war.

The arrival of the Sir Galahad at the southern port of Umm Qasr coincided with the unanimous approval by the United Nations Security Council in New York of a resolution to allow billions of dollars of Iraqi oil revenues to be used to buy food and medicine for the Iraqi population while the war is still going on.

With the nine-day old military campaign dogged by Iraqi resistance, Washington and London are desperate to open a "third front" of aid in a bid to persuade a sceptical Iraqi population that their invasion is meant to liberate them from Mr Hussein's oppressive regime.


Syria denies sending arms to Iraq
By Kim Ghattas in Damascus
Published: March 28 2003 21:44 | Last Updated: March 28 2003 21:44

Syria has rejected as unfounded and irresponsible accusations made by the US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that Damascus had been channeling military equipment to Iraq.

"(Rumsfeld) only brings problems for his country and humanity at large," said Buthayna Shaaban, spokeswoman for the Syrian Foreign ministry. "It is an absolutely unfounded, irresponsible statement, just like his statements that brought his country and the allied countries into a terrible war, unnecessary war on Iraq."

Rumsfeld had warned Syria that the US would "consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments."

For months, there have been reports about the trafficking of arms from Syria to Iraq, including anti-aircraft missiles, rockets and Scud missile guidance systems from Russia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria. There were also rumours about Iraq sending its own banned weapons to be hidden in Syria.

Since a thaw in the ties between the two formers foes three years ago, Syria had been receiving 150,000 barrels of cheap Iraqi oil outside the oil-for-food program. The increased road and rail traffic between Syria and Iraq could have provided cover for the smuggling activity. The arms are reported to have been brought into Syria by sea.

Analysts have been at a loss to explain why Syria has lead opposition in the Arab world to the US led war at a time when relations between Damascus and Washington are already strained. Syrian president Bashar el Assad has even said he believes it was a possibility that Syria would be next on Washington's list. In one of his rare interviews with the press this week, Mr. Assad told the Lebanese daily As-Safiron on Thursday he had warned Arab leaders at an Arab league meeting in Cairo that several Arab countries could be next.

"When I mention a number of Arab states, it is not logical to exclude Syria, which is the closest (to Iraq) and which has always been at the heart of the struggle against the invaders."

But the realisation that Washington could turn its attention to Syria in the war against terrorism does not seem to have deterred Syria from passively and sometimes actively opposing the US-led war against Iraq. During a summit in Cairo this month, Syria called on Arab states not to lend any assistance to the US troops. Until last week, Arab volunteers were still traveling in busses overland from Syria to Iraq to fight with Iraqi troops.

Syria has rejected as unfounded and irresponsible accusations made by the US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that Damascus had been channeling military equipment to Iraq.

"(Rumsfeld) only brings problems for his country and humanity at large," said Buthayna Shaaban, spokeswoman for the Syrian Foreign ministry. "It is an absolutely unfounded, irresponsible statement, just like his statements that brought his country and the allied countries into a terrible war, unnecessary war on Iraq."

Analysts have been at a loss to explain why Syria has lead opposition in the Arab world to the US led war at a time when relations between Damascus and Washington are already strained. Syrian president Bashar el Assad has even said he believes it was a possibility that Syria would be next on Washington's list. In one of his rare interviews with the press this week, Mr. Assad told the Lebanese daily As-Safiron on Thursday he had warned Arab leaders at an Arab league meeting in Cairo that several Arab countries could be next.

"When I mention a number of Arab states, it is not logical to exclude Syria, which is the closest (to Iraq) and which has always been at the heart of the struggle against the invaders."

But the realisation that Washington could turn its attention to Syria in the war against terrorism does not seem to have deterred Syria from passively and sometimes actively opposing the US-led war against Iraq. During a summit in Cairo this month, Syria called on Arab states not to lend any assistance to the US troops. Until last week, Arab volunteers were still traveling in busses overland from Syria to Iraq to fight with Iraqi troops.

On Thursday, the highest Syrian religious authority Sheikh Ahmad Kaftaro called on Muslims to engage in a jihad against foreign troops in Iraq, a call that no one in Syria would issue without the tacit approval of the Syrian leadership. There has been some cooperation between Damascus and the US in the war against terrorism but Syria remains on Washington's list of terrorism sponsoring state.

The US administration is unhappy about Syria's refusal to close down the Damascus offices of radical Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad and end its support for the Lebanese organisation Hezbollah. These organisations are listed as terrorist by Washington but Syria says they are legitimate resistance to Israel.

Another sign that the US's positions towards Syria might be changing are the recent comments by US Secretary of State Colin Powell about the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon, which he described as occupation forces. This marks a shift from Washington's decade long acquiescence to the Syrian military presence in Lebanon - a trade-off for Syria's participation in the coalition against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.


Civilians fleeing Basra caught in fire
By Mark Nicholson at US Central Command in Qatar
Published: March 28 2003 12:30 | Last Updated: March 28 2003 12:30

British troops on Friday engaged in an intense firefight with Iraqi "irregular" forces outside Basra after the pro-Saddam paramilitaries fired mortar bombs at up to 2,000 civilians fleeing the city, according to British military officials.

No-one was killed in the mortar attack, but a young woman was seriously wounded and others were injured. British armoured units policing the outskirts of Basra rushed ambulances to the scene after moving behind the civilians to screen them from the attack.

Captain Robert Sandford with the 7th Armoured Brigade said "several small groups" of Iraqi militia were loosing off mortar rounds from small mobile vehicles towards the departing civilians. "They landed around eight or nine mortars near the group (of civilians)," he said.

Officials at US Central Command said the irregular Iraqi forces also fired on the civilians with machine guns.

British military commanders have been keen to encourage a split between the bulk of ordinary civilians in the city, who they claim are not interested in fighting, and the hard core militia loyal to Saddam Hussein.

Earlier this week UK officials said there was the start of a possible uprising against the militia but Iraqi officials have claimed there are no political disturbances in the city.

Reports were mixed on Friday as to whether the file of people in civilian clothing marked the start of an exodus from Basra, which British forces have ringed with armour and parachute units in an attempt to isolate pro-Saddam factions from Baghdad.

Reuters news agency reported a "steady flow" of people trying to leave the city, but said it was "not a massive outflow". The agency also reported a smaller flow of people returning to the city.

British military commanders are keeping UK forces at arms-length from Basra, attacking any armour from the 51st Mechanised Division of Iraqi troops which that leaves the city and hitting "opportunistic" targets within the city when they arise. The UK believes a core of up to 1,000 paramilitary Iraqi forces are controlling the city by terrorising ordinary civilians.


No cakewalk
by Robert Novak
March 27, 2003

WASHINGTON -- "There were some who were supportive of going to war with Iraq who described it as a cakewalk," Tim Russert told Donald Rumsfeld on NBC's "Meet the Press" last Sunday. The secretary of Defense seemed surprised. "I never did," he replied. "No one I know in the Pentagon ever did." While Rumsfeld spoke the literal truth, his response was still disingenuous.

Rumsfeld had been asked about the cakewalk description several times, rejecting it but still defending the premises for such a judgment. While its source was not technically a Pentagon official, it was a longtime Rumsfeld friend and lieutenant: Kenneth Adelman, appointed by the secretary to the Defense Policy Board (an outside advisory panel). In demanding military action against Saddam Hussein, Adelman has promised repeatedly there would be no military difficulty.

U.S. general officers I have questioned over the last year were angry that anybody -- particularly an official adviser -- should spread the impression this would not be a real war, with killing and dying. Nevertheless, the cakewalk image took hold among some of the strongest hawks in Congress and in the public mind. That has led to widespread surprise and dismay in beholding what Rumsfeld accurately told Russert: "A war is a war. It's a brutal thing."

Nevertheless, Adelman and Rumsfeld both overestimated the gap between U.S. and Iraqi military prowess. According to Defense Department sources, Rumsfeld at first insisted that vast air superiority and a degraded Iraqi military would enable 75,000 U.S. troops to win the war. Gen. Tommy Franks, the theater commander-in-chief, convinced Rumsfeld to send 250,000 (augmented by 45,000 British). However, the Army would have preferred a much deeper force, leading to anxiety inside the Pentagon in the first week of war.

Unlike Vietnam, strongest advocates of action against the Iraqi regime had estimated the lowest troop needs. Former Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Perle, named by Rumsfeld to head the Defense Policy Board, predicted in February 2001 that Hussein would be gone within a year. I asked Perle whether a major U.S. expeditionary force would be needed. "No, certainly not," he replied. "I don't think that's necessary."

Adelman, Perle's Defense Policy Board colleague who held important government posts as Rumsfeld's subordinate, was interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Dec. 6, 2001. "I don't agree that you need an enormous number of American troops," said Adelman. Hussein's army "is down to one-third than it was before, and I think it would be a cakewalk." Since then, Adelman has stuck to that estimate.

Last Nov. 23, I asked Rumsfeld whether he agreed with Adelman. "Well, I really don't," he said, but then indicated he understood how his friend came to that conclusion. "Saddam Hussein's forces are considerably weaker today than" in 1991, while "our forces are considerably stronger." He suggested that only Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" -- presumably chemical weapons -- could "change the equation." No such weapons have yet been used, but the Iraqis have put up stout resistance.

While Army officers would have preferred a larger commitment, even what was finally approved for Operation Iraqi Freedom was reduced when the 4th Infantry Division was denied Turkey as a base to invade northern Iraq. The Defense and State departments point fingers. Secretary of State Colin Powell is criticized for not flying to Ankara to convince the Turkish government. The Pentagon is criticized for not immediately dispatching the division via the Red Sea.

"We have never done something like this with this modest a force at such a distance from its bases," retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a division commander in the first Gulf War, told the BBC Monday, contending Rumsfeld had erred. A bigger stir was made in the Defense establishment by the column in Tuesday's Washington Post by retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, a noted writer on military affairs. E-mails and phone calls flowed through the Pentagon agreeing with Peters's view that Rumsfeld committed a "serious strategic miscalculation" in not sending enough troops and relying on the "shock and awe" bombing campaign.

Yet, civilian and military sources high in the government now believe coalition forces, short on manpower, must rely on air power to win the battle of Baghdad. Clearly, it is no cakewalk.

2003 Creators Syndicate, Inc.


Arabic TVs: Over 50 Iraqis Killed in Baghdad Blast

KUWAIT (Reuters) - Arabic-language television stations said that more than 50 Iraqis had been killed in what they said was an air raid on a marketplace in the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Friday.

Al-Jazeera's correspondent said 51 Iraqis had been killed and 49 injured in the market in the Shula neighborhood of Baghdad.

"An Iraqi official told us that the search is still going on for those trapped under the rubble," he said and showed pictures of bodies, including those of two children.

Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television reported 52 dead and showed pictures of injured at a hospital. Iraqi government officials were not immediately available for comment.


US to send 100,000 more troops

The US military plans to send 100,000 more troops to Iraq in the next month, effectively doubling its forces on the ground.

There are currently about 125,000 coalition soldiers fighting in Iraq - around 25,000 of them British.

US officials said plans call for inserting as many as 100,000 more US soldiers into Iraq by the end of April, bringing the total US-led force there to about 225,000.

The officials stressed that the build-up was not new but part of a long-developed war plan.

Military commanders have been talking about the need for more troops to bolster already exhausted troops.

Among the reinforcements will be the 4th Infantry Division from Texas, 1st Armoured Division from Germany and 2nd Armoured Cavalry Regiment from Colorado.

Earlier, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld denied that the Pentagon had changed its war plan and was rushing in forces to make up for what critics have called a major shortage of foot-soldiers and tanks to defeat Iraq's elite Republican Guards and paramilitary troops loyal to Saddam.

"It's a good plan and it was designed in a way that forces would continue to flow over a sustained period," he told reporters following a hearing in the Senate.

The 4th Infantry Division was earlier scheduled to go to Turkey, but Ankara refused to agree to US troop-basing and movement through the country to set up a northern front.

Instead, the first units of the division, one of the most modern in the Army, began moving on Thursday from Fort Hood, Texas, to Kuwait to join its M-1A2 tanks and other equipment.

That flow will include at least 30,000 troops, including support units.

The 1st Armoured Division of nearly 20,000 troops and tanks is also beginning to move to the region from Germany and the highly mobile 2nd Armoured Cavalry Regiment will begin to go this weekend from Fort Collins, Colorado.


Injured US troops speak out

Injured US troops caught in a vicious firefight near Nasiriyah have been describing their ordeal.

They have been airlifted to the Ramstein airbase in Germany.

Coalition troops injured in the conflict are airlifted out of the Gulf to receive medical treatment in Britain and Germany.

Harry Smith of ITV News reports.

Soldiers' Ordeal


Anti-Hussein Officials Rebuke Unilateral U.S. Battle Strategy
Dissidents Say Failure to Incorporate Iraqis Constitutes 'War of Conquest'

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 27, 2003; Page A29

SALAHUDDIN, Iraq, March 26 -- Iraq's U.S.-endorsed opposition has distanced itself from the Bush administration's war strategy, suggesting the plan to conquer the country without involving the Iraqi public has opened the way for military problems in the south.

Opposition organizations all desired direct Iraqi involvement in the war. Just how much popular resistance they could have mustered remains an open question. But from their offices here in the Kurdish-controlled area of northern Iraq, the groups have expressed little surprise that Iraqi civilians appear reluctant to greet allied forces, much less take up arms to expel government militias and soldiers from their midst.

The opposition groups -- loosely allied Kurdish, Shiite Muslim and secular organizations -- have long insisted that most Iraqis look forward to the ouster of President Saddam Hussein and his security-heavy Baath Party government. But they have expressed irritation that, in their view, the Bush administration has made little effort to include Iraqis in military or political strategy.

"There is a difference between a war of liberation and a war of conquest. Liberation means Iraqis are at the forefront. Conquest means the invaders are in charge," said Hoshyar Zubari, an official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of five groups recognized by the Bush Administration as allied opposition forces and one of two Kurdish organizations that have administered a 17,000-square-mile region of northern Iraq that has been protected by U.S. and British air patrols since the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Unsubstantiated reports from the southern city of Basra, Iraq's second largest-city, claim the beginnings of a revolt. Its strength, if any, is impossible to gauge.

Opposition leaders regard Basra, largely populated by Shiite Muslims, as one of several southern cities ripe for rebellion. Hussein's army cracked down harshly on Shiites after a failed 1991 uprising following Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War. Opposition officials say numerous underground anti-government groups operate in the south.

They complain the Bush administration has been cautious about fomenting an uprising. As recently as Tuesday, Pentagon officials urged Iraqis to remain in their homes.

"There's a total lack of Iraqi involvement," said Zaab Sethna, an aide to Ahmed Chalabi, who heads the Iraqi National Congress, an opposition group based in London. "We have been surprised over the months the lack of cooperation with the opposition."

Shiite groups inside and outside the U.S.-endorsed opposition have said they would not ask their followers inside Iraq to rise up. The Shiites, Iraq's majority Muslim strain, are still aggrieved over then-President George H. W. Bush's encouragement of an uprising in 1991 and his subsequent refusal to support it.

The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite group based in Iran, said the Bush administration has shared none of its plans with the opposition. Its leader, Mohammed Bakir Hakim, told Iraqi Shiites on Tuesday to remain neutral in the war.

"We are not in favor of this war because it places the future of Iraq in foreign hands," he told reporters in Tehran.

"There is a historical issue with 1991," said Galib Asadi, a Supreme Council representative in northern Iraq. "We believe all Iraqis will go out into the streets when [Iraqi] authorities are prevented from using powerful weapons."

Here in the north, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and its sometimes rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, have been eager to send their own forces to the city of Kirkuk, just south of the Kurdish-controlled zone, which has a large Kurdish population. However, Kurdish officials complained that the Americans have decided to limit the Kurdish role south of the zone to occupying the countryside during a U.S. move on Kirkuk.

Until 1,000 troops from the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade parachuted into the region tonight, the northern front had been relatively quiet as war raged in the south. This was largely due to Turkey's refusal to allow U.S. troops to stage a ground invasion of Iraq from its territory to the north.

Several dozen U.S. Special Operations personnel are in the north, but military action had been limited to occasional bombings of Kirkuk and the nearby city of Mosul. In recent days, U.S. warplanes have struck Iraqi bases near a dam north of Mosul, an officers club, a military intelligence office in Mosul, military barracks and a headquarters office of Saddam's Fedayeen, one of the militia forces that have been harassing U.S. forces in the south. Near Kirkuk, the U.S. attack planes have hit artillery and mortar positions, Kurdish officials said.

The absence of a substantial U.S. invasion force in the north has given Kurds hope they might be called upon to seize Kirkuk, but so far no such effort has materialized. "The strategy needs to be revised," said Zubari. Kurdish officials predicted that residents in Kirkuk would rebel if fellow Kurds invaded.

Opposition officials cite several other factors inhibiting a mass uprising. In Kirkuk, they said the Iraqi government has deployed an array of militia forces including Saddam's Fedayeen, the Mujaheddin al-Khalq, a fierce Iranian exile group, and armed members of the ruling Baath Party to keep civilians at bay. According to travelers who arrived in the autonomous zone before the war, Kirkuk residents were told to stay in their homes at all times. On the eve of the conflict, Baath Party officials rounded up young men in Kurdish neighborhoods, prompting hundreds of others to flee, they said.

The Iraqi opposition itself remains disjointed. A week into the war, and a month after a conference designed to demonstrate unity, officials have yet to create a central, functioning leadership. During the conference, they announced a six-member leadership committee. Only four actually joined it: Chalabi, Massoud Barzani, of the Kurdistan Democratic Party; Jalal Talabani, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; and Hakim, of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who lives in Tehran.

The others, Ayad Alawi, who heads the Iraqi National Accord, a grouping of former military officials, "is acting independently," Zubari said. Adnan Pachachi, a former Iraqi foreign minister, refused to join.

Even in northern Iraq, the groups are dispersed. Chalabi works in Dukan, a lakeside city northwest of here. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the local Supreme Council office are based in Sulaymaniyah in the west, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party headquarters are located here in Salahuddin. A phone call between Salahuddin to Sulaymaniyah requires use of a long distance number that relays the call through London.

2003 The Washington Post Company


Wounded U.S. troops say resistance surprised them

LANDSTUHL, Germany (CNN) -- A U.S. Marine wounded in the Iraqi war said Thursday he was surprised by the amount of Iraqi resistance, and an Army sergeant said he thought he was going to die in the fighting.

"When it comes to going back out there ... nobody wants to go back out in that sort of thing really," said Sgt. Charles Horgan, 21, of the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment.

Horgan, Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Menard and Army Staff Sgt. Jamie Villafane talked to reporters from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

The hospital is treating 24 Americans for war wounds in intensive care and surgical units -- 15 Marines, seven soldiers and two sailors, a spokeswoman said.

The three men were wounded in fighting at bridges over the Euphrates River south of Nasiriya. The southern Iraqi city is a key center in the war because of the strategic bridges.

Encountering Iraqi troops in disguise

Horgan, a gunner, said his unit was asked last weekend to investigate groups of civilians at two bridges close to one another. As the U.S. soldiers approached, they realized the civilians were "on edge" and were moving along the river in a trench, he said.

It "didn't seem like a war," Horgan said, until the vehicle he and Villafane were in was blasted by a rocket.

"Once I heard that pop of the rocket going off, I knew I was in the middle of it," he said. Initially, his legs felt numb, and when he jumped off his vehicle, he couldn't support his weight, he said. Shrapnel had pierced his foot, and his boot was dangling at an angle, he said.

"I came out of it really lucky," Horgan added. "I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm going to die.' "

Villafane, 31, who is in the same unit as Horgan, said the Iraqis were wearing army clothes under their civilian garb. Villafane's left arm was severely wounded.

His wife, Susan Villafane, spoke to CNN via telephone from Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. She relayed her husband's account of how he sustained his injuries and the extent of them.

"When the rocket grenade hit his Humvee, it blew him out and a lot of shrapnel went into his left arm," she said. "On his forearm there is a big chunk of skin missing. They had to remove tendons and nerves to replace in his hand, and hopefully he will have the feeling and movement of his pinky and ring finger. I want to be there so bad... to touch him."

Their conversations have been wonderful, she said. "A lot of 'I love yous' and 'I miss you.' 'Give the children my love' 'I'm doing fine.' 'I'm okay.' 'Don't worry about me.' And he wants Taco Bell."

Menard, 21, of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, said the soldiers had not expected strong resistance from the Iraqi fighters.

"We were very surprised," Menard said. "They weren't rolling over the way we thought they would."

Putting family first

Asked about the Americans protesting against the war, Villafane said, "We have people out there fighting, regardless of what their feelings are."

The troops' aim is to support the United States and President Bush's policies, he said. The men said they believe the American and British fighters are doing a good job.

The three will be sent back to the United States for further treatment, and Villafane said he will be leaving the military, ending 12 years of service.

"I made a decision before this [war] started, with my family, that I was going to get out," he said. "This just kind of put the icing on the cake. I've got a wife and kids who are a little more important to me than to sit here, to try and defend my country."

When asked about the possibility of a chemical attack by the Iraqis, Menard said, "We're prepared for it. ... You just hope for the best that it doesn't happen."

On Tuesday, Marines seized a hospital in Nasiriya and captured nearly 170 Iraqi soldiers who had been staging military operations from the facility.

Ten Marines were killed in action in Nasiriya early in the battle, which started last weekend, and the Iraqis took at least five others prisoner Sunday, U.S. military authorities said.


No 10 backtracks on claim that two British soldiers were executed
Steven Morris and Rory McCarthy in Camp as-Sayliya, Qatar
Friday March 28, 2003
The Guardian

Tony Blair appeared to backtrack yesterday when his official spokesman said there was no "absolute evidence" that two British soldiers who were killed after being separated from their unit in southern Iraq were executed, as the prime minister had earlier suggested.

Despite Mr Blair's unequivocal accusation that two British soldiers were executed by Iraqi forces, his official spokesman later said: "The bodies were some distance from the vehicles in which they were travelling. They had lost their helmets and flak jackets. We accept that this is not absolute evidence, but it does point in the direction that these people were shot."

Mr Blair had been told by defence chiefs that the way the bodies were lying in images shown on the Arabic language television channel, al-Jazeera, suggested that they were dragged out of their Land Rover and killed in cold blood.

The two men were named by the Ministry of Defence last night as Sapper Luke Allsopp, 24, from north London and Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth, 36, from Essex, both of 33 EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) Engineer Regiment.

During a joint press conference with George Bush at Camp David, Mr Blair called the supposed executions acts "of cruelty beyond all human comprehension".

A British military official at central command in Qatar was less adamant: "While the footage shown yesterday suggested that they might have been executed, the pictures are of a poor quality and don't provide us with the facts."

Mr Bush had supported Mr Blair. "They were murdered, unarmed soldiers executed. That's a war crime," he said.

Sources said that the fact that the bodies were lying away from their vehicle without their rifles and helmets suggested they were not killed in the course of a battle. It is also possible the bodies may have been pulled away from their vehicle after the men were killed and their rifles and helmets stolen as trophies.

Yesterday, members of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment expressed their anger at the reports that colleagues had been "executed". Private Danny Quirk, 22, from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, said at a checkpoint close to the spot where the British soldiers went missing: "Now we know we are fighting a dirty war. If it's true that the British soldiers were executed in cold blood, we have to accept that we are fighting barbarians."

Iraq's ambassador to Russia, Abbas Khalaf, denied Iraq had executed American and British prisoners and reiterated that Baghdad would treat captives in line with the Geneva convention.


Al-Qaeda fighting with Iraqis, British claim

Near Basra, Iraq: British military interrogators claim captured Iraqi soldiers have told them that al-Qaeda terrorists are fighting on the side of Saddam Hussein's forces against allied troops near Basra.

At least a dozen members of Osama bin Laden's network are in the town of Az Zubayr where they are coordinating grenade and gun attacks on coalition positions, according to the Iraqi prisoners of war.

It was believed that last night (Thursday) British forces were preparing a military strike on the base where the al-Qaeda unit was understood to be holed up.

A senior British military source inside Iraq said: "The information we have received from PoWs today is that an al-Qaeda cell may be operating in Az Zubayr. There are possibly around a dozen of them and that is obviously a matter of concern to us."

If terrorists are found, it would be the first proof of a direct link between Saddam's regime and Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

The connection would give credibility to the argument that Tony Blair used to justify war against Saddam - a "nightmare scenario" in which he might eventually pass weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.

On Wednesday Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, said the coalition had solid evidence that senior al-Qaeda operatives have visited Baghdad in the past.

Rumsfeld said Saddam had an "evolving" relationship with the terror network.

The presence of fanatical al-Qaeda terrorists would go some way to explaining the continued resistance to US and British forces in southern Iraq, an area dominated by Shi'ite Muslims traditionally hostile to

Saddam's regime.

Heavy fighting continued around the besieged city of Basra yesterday after British forces destroyed 14 Iraqi tanks which had struck out towards the Al Faw peninsula.

Military commanders have decided against launching an attack on Basra because of fears the operation would result in a Stalingrad-style street battle.

It is estimated the Iraqi military forces in the area have been reduced to 30 per cent fighting strength but have now embedded themselves within civilian buildings in the city.

Armed raids have destroyed transmitters and taken state radio and television off the air in Basra and effectively cutting off its communications with Baghdad.

British tanks from the 7th Armoured Brigade, the Desert Rats, could be sent into Basra if there is a sudden civilian uprising against Saddam's forces.

Last night, forces around the city heard loud explosions as coalition helicopter gunships were sent into the area.

This is a pooled despatch from Gethin Chamberlain of The Scotsman.


UN Council Votes to Revamp Oil, Food Program

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Friday to approve tapping billions of dollars in Iraqi oil revenues to purchase food and medicine in a bid to avert a humanitarian crisis in the war.

The oil-for-food program, which began in December 1996, allows Iraq to sell oil to purchase food, medicine and a host of civilian supplies under U.N. supervision. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan suspended the program and evacuated more than 300 relief workers who monitor the distribution of supplies shortly before U.S. and British forces arrived in Iraq.

The resolution would authorize Annan, for the next 45 days, to make "technological and temporary adjustments" to the program, such as reviewing Iraq's contracts to make sure health supplies and foodstuffs had priority.

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Just a Reminder - Tuesday, Nov. 04, 2003
Ravyne Is Moving - Friday, Oct. 17, 2003
The Mission - Sunday, Oct. 12, 2003
Siege Heil - Thursday, Oct. 09, 2003
Litany Of Lies - Wednesday, Oct. 08, 2003

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I now collaborate with Chris Vargo, JR. at The Underground Files. Many of my articles can now be found there.

Featured Sites

Is This Your Government?

Penguins Are Geeks Too

Chaos In Motion

Jonas Parker


Post 9/11 Timeline

Show your support for a political writer. Check out Lisa Walsh Thomas' book and order your copy today!

Bev Harris' Black Box Voting
Order at Plan Nine Publishing or Visit Scoop to download free chapters of her book

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