- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 23 (UPI) — U.S. and British air strikes resumed heavy bombardment of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, early Sunday, in which 25 loud explosions were heard across the city.

The blaring sounds of the U.S.-British jets started shortly after midnight, but the Iraqi anti-aircraft defenses stopped, perhaps due to their high altitude and the inability of conventional artillery to reach them.

Some of the explosions were extremely loud, indicating they were dropping in the center of Baghdad, while others were heard in the distance, possibly on the city's outskirts.

Meanwhile, officials said fierce fighting was continuing in the central and southern regions between the Iraqi forces and ruling Baath Party militias and the U.S.-British forces, which appear to be facing serious difficulties in heading north toward the Iraqi capital.

Baghdad, a city with a population of 4.5 million, was bracing for an incursion as armed fighters took positions in preparation of facing a massive confrontation should the U.S. and British forces try to invade the city.

Most of the city's commercial shops were closed and the traffic movement in the streets was relatively slow due to the daytime raids on different parts of Baghdad on Saturday.

Nevertheless, Iraqis in the capital continued to enjoy sufficient basic food commodities, water and electricity as the country entered its fourth day of the Anglo-U.S. war.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Saturday chaired a meeting of his top military and civilian aides to discuss the situation of the armed forces in the south of the country, particularly in the Faw Peninsula, al-Rumailah and al-Nasseriya.

State-run television said Defense Minister Sultan Hashem Ahmad briefed the president on the fighting positions of the Iraqi forces in the south of the country, in which the officials expressed their satisfaction with the "Iraqi steadfastness and heroic positions, particularly that of the tribes."

An official statement said the leadership also expressed its satisfaction of the fighting by the tribes and fighters of the ruling Baath Party in "chasing the enemy and inflicting the most losses (on the enemy)."

An air defense spokesman said the "enemy forces faced fierce resistance by the fighters of the third infantry of the 47th unit, the Baath Party organizations and the tribes in the Souk al-Shiyoukh" in Nasseriyah in southern Iraq.

The spokesman said "the enemy tried to advance in the area, but had to stop after panic struck its soldiers, despite its personnel and tank reinforcements and a number of aircraft, and fled disappointed."

He added that another "enemy line headed for Ali bin Abi Taleb Airbase in Nasseriya but faced a worse fate from the first one after suffering huge losses in their tanks and vehicles."

The military spokesman said the "enemy tried to advance on the main road of Samawa-Nasseriya, but the Iraqi fighters confronted them, forcing them to stop at a power plant."

Iraqi Television also quoted a military spokesman as saying at a news conference on Saturday night that the Iraq's 51st Infantry division was "heroically and fiercely fighting the invading forces and inflicting heavy losses on the enemy and aborting all its objectives."

The U.S. Command said on Friday that the commander of this Iraqi division and his deputy had surrendered to American forces.

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