- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

From combined dispatches
SOUTHERN IRAQ Charred Iraqi corpses smolder in burned-out trucks. Black smoke hangs over bombed cities where U.S. troops battle Iraqi soldiers.
Correspondents in southern Iraq some with U.S.-led forces, some operating independently watched the war to topple Saddam Hussein unfold yesterday as U.S. convoys advanced on Baghdad and battles raged for control of key cities.
Correspondent Chris Tomlinson was in the desert near the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, when an alert crackled over the radio at midmorning: An armored column of more than 30 Iraqi vehicles was coming.
A company of the 3rd Infantry Division was ordered forward to dig in behind irrigation levees from which they peered into the distance at the Iraqi vehicles. They seemed little more than blips on the horizon.
Then the U.S. Air Force arrived. Slow-flying A-10 Thunderbolt attack planes swooped down and began picking off the Iraqi vehicles one by one. Distant dots erupted in flashes of light, followed moments later by the muffled sounds of explosions.
High-flying B-52s came next, dropping bombs on Iraqi infantry that had been moving behind the armored vehicles.
When correspondent Luke Baker traveled through the plain shortly afterward it was littered with Iraqi bodies and gutted vehicles.
Some vehicles were still smoldering, and charred ribs were the only recognizable part of three melted bodies in a destroyed car lying in the roadside dust.
"It wasn't even a fair fight. I don't know why they don't just surrender," said Col. Mark Hildenbrand, commander of the 937th Engineer Group. "When you're playing soccer at home, 3-2 is a fair score, but here it's more like 119-0."
U.S. troops showed reporters a hide-out said to have been used by an Iraqi militiaman. The soldier who had used the hide-out had only a filthy blanket to protect him from the cold desert nights, and just a plastic bag of raw meat for food.
When he fled, he left behind a picture of his two children.
Southeast of Najaf, correspondent Sean Maguire saw explosions and huge plumes of smoke over Nasiriyah, a strategic city on the Euphrates River where U.S. forces have been fighting to secure bridges to allow them to advance toward Baghdad.
"It looks like artillery, or possibly air strikes," said Mr. Maguire, traveling with the U.S. 1st Marine Division.
In the southeastern city of Umm Qasr, Iraq's only deep-water port, U.S. and British forces used planes and tanks in a battle to dislodge at least 120 Iraqi Republican Guards.
Correspondent Adrian Croft said British Harrier jets dropped 500-pound bombs on the city, sending columns of black smoke curling into the air. When the bombing ended, some Iraqis could be seen waving white flags and surrendering.
As night fell U.S. soldiers were still using machine-gun, artillery and mortar fire in an attempt to flush out another group of Iraqi fighters from a hideout.
Civilians streamed out of Umm Qasr and the major city of Basra. Correspondent Rosalind Russell, south of Basra, watched dozens of trucks and battered cars pass, crammed full of household belongings.
Machine gun and artillery fire echoed behind them.
"There is fighting in the center, on the streets. It is terrible," said Hussein, a 24-year-old engineer who works for the state-run oil company in Basra. "We don't want Americans here. This is Iraq."

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