- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein yesterday threw waves of marauding paramilitary forces from Baghdad against the Army's mechanized 5th Corps, while Iraqi tanks dashed from the besieged southern city of Basra, only to be pounded by waves of air strikes.
The 5th Corps and its tank-laden 3rd Infantry Division, on their drive to Baghdad, have killed more than 1,000 of the fanatical fighters led by Saddam's personal militia, the black-hooded Fedayeen Saddam, commanders said.
"Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has sent about 1,000 reinforcements from his Ba'ath Party, the Fedayeen and his al-Quds militia to Najaf, As Sanawa and Nasiriyah," said Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, the 3rd Infantry commander. "They are fighting very tenaciously and constantly attacking U.S. forces."
The al-Quds unit, which takes its name from the Arabic name for Jerusalem, are martyrdom volunteers recruited by the regime.
Saddam is sending his attack forces south in convoys of civilian trucks, or even buses, that make it nearly impossible for allied pilots 10,000 feet up to identify them as military targets.
With the war entering its second week, the biggest ground clash came Tuesday night near Najaf. Irregulars, moving on foot and on trucks, tried to surprise the 3rd Infantry Division's 7th Cavalry unit, which was dug in during blinding sandstorms.
The gambit did not work. The unit's Bradley Fighting Vehicles, using night-vision equipment, opened up with their 25 mm guns and killed about 300 of the Iraqi irregulars. No U.S. deaths were reported.
"The 7th Cavalry was engaged by irregular forces firing rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank weapons," said Maj. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal at the Pentagon. "In the middle of bad conditions, our forces responded by destroying more than 30 enemy vehicles and killing enemy personnel in the hundreds."
The skirmishes are a prelude to a brewing showdown between the 5th Corps and the Republican Guard's Medina division and their Soviet T-72 tanks guarding Baghdad's southwestern doorstep. Thick, fierce sandstorms that have limited troop movements this week are due to ease up by today, paving the way for a classic armored battle this weekend.
"Our military has gone more than 200 miles in Iraq," said chief Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke. "They are now closing in on Baghdad. Within just the last day, fighting in the sandstorm, coalition forces have engaged the enemy."
She called Saddam's regime "increasingly desperate," while the invasion force has made "remarkable progress."
Reporters with the 3rd Infantry reported that the Medina division was being reinforced by perhaps 1,000 vehicles moving from Baghdad.
With the Army's 5th Corps repositioning in the blinding dust, pilots capitalized on infrared targeting pods to spot some ground targets through the desert grit. Aircraft typically work "kill boxes" to methodically destroy the tanks, armored vehicles and artillery pieces.
The battle for Baghdad's southern flanks is shaping up this way: The Marine First Expeditionary Force is moving up the east side of the Euphrates River for a confrontation with a Republican Guard division near Al Kut.
In the coming weeks, these forces will be assisted by the Army's most modern fighting force, the 4th Infantry Division, which was supposed to invade northern Iraq from Turkey but will now enter Iraq from Kuwait. The 4th Infantry's troops will be leaving Texas today to link up with their heavy equipment in the Middle East.
On the western side, the 5th Corps is moving in positions from Najaf to Karbala to take on Medina.
The Army's 101st Airborne Division, a helicopter assault unit with 16,000 soldiers and Apache attack helicopters, is likely to play several roles, bolstering southern forces and also moving north to help set up a front there.
In Kurdish Iraq, U.S. forces took the first concrete steps toward forming that northern front, from which they will attack Baghdad and take the pressure off the 5th Corps and Marines.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade dropped in about 1,000 paratroopers to seize the air field in preparation for the Air Force flying in heavy Army tank units to create an armored force large enough to take on the Republican Guard.
For now, the war has two southern fronts one near the Persian Gulf and the other south of Baghdad.
The British siege of Basra continued, and soldiers from the storied "Desert Rat" brigade expressed frustration at not entering the port city. Allied commanders have decided, for now, not to engage in urban combat.
"The war is entering a phase where we are seizing tactical opportunities as they occur. Aggressive patrols are being mounted across all the territory controlled by 7th Armored Brigade," said Col. Chris Vernon, a British Army spokesman. "And as soon as we see targets we are taking them on."
Some regular Iraqi troops bottled up in Basra made a mad dash to escape under the cover of blowing sand. An exiting column of more than 100 tanks and vehicles brought an answer from the allies in the form of air strikes, according to a British reporter on the scene. U.S. military sources said the strikes came from A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft, armed with Maverick guided missiles, and F-18 Hornet fighters, carrying laser-guided bombs.
British military spokesman Simon Scott said, "They came out of Basra heading southeast. We're not sure why. They're heading toward British positions on the Faw Peninsula."
The United States expected Basra, a town of anti-Saddam Shi'ite Muslims, to fall quickly. But Baghdad has inserted Fedayeen guerrillas into the southern city and has used Republican Guard commanders to coerce regular army troops into fighting.
British forces have responded by blocking exit routes with their powerful Challenger II tanks and lobbing mortar shells into Fedayeen targets to aid a fledgling uprising.
The coalition also destroyed a symbol of Saddam's power Basra's Ba'ath headquarters with satellite-guided bombs.
Huge explosions rocked Baghdad last night as anti-aircraft defenses came into action at around 11 p.m. local time, Agence France-Presse reported from Baghdad.
The war's first dispute over Iraqi civilian casualties arose when the Information Ministry in Baghdad said the allies bombed a market in the al-Sha'ab neighborhood, killing 14 civilians.
However, Gen. McChrystal told reporters that no building has been targeted in the al-Sha'ab area. He suggested that the damage may have come from spent anti-aircraft missiles or artillery shells.
"We know for a fact that something landed in the Sha'ab district, but we don't know for a fact whether it was U.S. or Iraqi," the two-star general said. "And we can't make any assumption on either at this point. We do know that we did not target anything in the vicinity of the Sha'ab district."
A defense official said the warheads on the coalition's Tomahawk missiles are deactivated if they stray badly off target.
There were intelligence reports before the war that Saddam planned to attack his own people in Baghdad and blame the atrocities on the United States, and his regime yesterday summoned the international press to the scene.
The alliance did not make that accusation yesterday. But Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command, said earlier this week that the Iraqis have booby-trapped bridges and structures in Baghdad's Shi'ite neighborhoods.
Also yesterday, the Pentagon's second-ranking general accused the Iraqis of executing prisoners of war.
"They have executed prisoners of war" said Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "I've never seen anything like this. It's disgusting."
Defense officials have told The Washington Times and other media outlets in private that several bodies shown on Arab TV had execution-style gunshot wounds to their heads, but Gen. Pace's remarks last night on CNN were Washington's first official public accusation.
Gen. McChrystal downplayed the effect of Saddam's bands of irregular fighters. He maintained that Americans will not loosen rules of engagement to allow for attacks when the Fedayeen hide in civilian areas.
"The tactics and techniques and procedures won't change, although that's what I really think that these elements are trying to do," Gen. McChrystal said. "They're trying to get an overreaction from coalition forces, so that we'll fire on people who are trying to surrender."
U.S. intelligence agencies estimate that Saddam controls as many as 60,000 paramilitary troops, including the Fedayeen, the special security forces and al-Quds volunteers.
The coalition has met stiff resistance in southern Shi'ite cities that they had hoped would fall quickly. But town by town, it is taking control.
The Pentagon believes that when Baghdad falls, so will the resistance.
"As we continue to move forward, the first and primary objective, clearly, is to overturn the regime," Gen. McChrystal said. "And I believe that when the regime, in fact, is taken down, the motivation and the support for many of these elements will stop."
Marines on Tuesday finally subdued the river-crossing town of Nasiriyah.
Inside, they found that the Fedayeen had converted a hospital into their command center, complete with chemical weapons suits and injections of atropine, which combats nerve gas.
"Since coalition forces obviously do not have or use nerve gas, the conclusion is inescapable," Mrs. Clarke said. "The enemy may be planning to use such agents against us or the Iraqi people."
President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq to oust Saddam and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction.
The allies have not found such weapons since the war started.
Gen. Tommy Franks, the allied commander, has left the lights on in Baghdad, and had allowed Baghdad television to broadcast. But since Tuesday, the allies have used an electronic weapon several times to take down the signal, rather than a conventional explosive munition that could kill civilians.
At first, leaving the channel on provided intelligence on the Iraqi leadership and who had survived air strikes on command centers. But as the regime continued to put out anti-U.S. messages, including a long taped speech by Saddam, the screen went dark.
The Pentagon said the coalition has dropped 4,300 precision-guided munitions, including 600 sea-launched Tomahawks, since last week.

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