- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 19 (UPI) — U.S. and British forces carried out at least two separate strikes Wednesday in southern Iraq, according to Pentagon sources.

The strikes were ostensibly part of the no-fly zone enforcement, in place since 1992 to protect Shi'a minorities in the south, and since 1991 in the north to protect the Kurdish population.

The Pentagon has not released information regarding the target, number of aircraft or missiles involved. Similar strikes have been carried out on almost a biweekly basis since December 1998.

However, as more than 250,000 American and British troops and a small number of Australian soldeirs prepare for an invasion, the strike could be a harbinger of the massive air and ground attack that could come in a few hours.

A separate news reports suggest ground forces may already be fighting in al Basrah, the southern Iraqi port city that was heavily targeted in the first night of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The British newspaper the Evening Standard is reporting on its Web site Wednesday that British and American special forces are already fighting near al-Basrah.

Pentagon officials would not comment on the report.

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