Allies Plan More Fierce Bombing

IRAQ: AMERICA AT WAR: 2003/3/28 Smoke rising during US airstrike, Baghdad, Iraq, video still AP

With U.S. forces taking positions to strike Baghdad from nearly all sides — or to mount a siege and wait for Saddam Hussein's regime to fall to internal opposition, America's battle plan for the Iraqi capital is taking shape.

In Basra, a "couple of thousand" Iraqi civilians trying to flee the besieged city, which is encircled by British troops, were attacked by Iraqi paramilitary forces who opened fire on them with mortars and machine guns, British officials said.

As sporadic battles rage between American infantry and defiant Iraqi troops and paramilitary guerrillas, more armor and at least 100,000 reinforcing U.S. and allied troops are on their way to join the coalition force over the next few weeks.

In the interim, the American game plan is simple: bombs, bombs and more bombs.

In other major developments:

  • Coalition forces have taken more than 4,000 prisoners of war so far, but U.S. commanders are expressing concern that some Iraqi soldiers allowed to return to their homes are being forced back into service by paramilitary units loyal to Saddam.

  • Flanked by patrol boats and assault helicopters, the British supply ship Sir Galahad docked at the hard-won port of Umm Qasr on Friday, loaded with the first military shipment of relief aid for Iraqi citizens.

  • Pentagon officials said about 90,000 U.S. troops were in Iraq, with 100,000 to 120,000 more on the way. Some will be deployed in northern Iraq, where U.S. objectives include seizing the valuable oil fields near the city of Kirkuk.

  • President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged to keep their forces in Iraq however long it takes to overthrow Saddam. They said the U.N. could help rebuild Iraq, but left uncertain who would create and run a new government.

  • Gen. Tommy Franks told Infinity Radio that no weapons of mass destruction have been found to date in Iraq. "But then again," Franks said, "we have not been to the places where we believe these weapons may be located."

  • Iraqi state TV reports that Saddam Hussein chaired a meeting of the ruling Baath Party. The report said the Iraqi leader's top advisers and his son, Qusai, were also there. U.S. intelligence officials say a woman seen at a video of that same meeting - whose date is unknown - is believed to be Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, one of the government's top biological weapons experts.

  • The Army's senior ground commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace of V Corps, told reporters Thursday that unexpected tactics by Iraqi fighters and stretched supply lines were slowing down the campaign.

  • The Pentagon says 27 Americans have been killed in the war so far; 22 Britons have also been reported killed. Figures on Iraqi dead are unknown but widely believed to be over a thousand.

    Thunderous explosions rocked Baghdad and a towering column of churning orange smoke rose over the skyline Friday after a break in the weather opened the way for the mightiest bombardment of the Iraqi capital in days.

    The military rolled out new weapons — two 4,700-pound, satellite-guided "bunker busting" bombs were dropped from American B-2 bombers on a major communications tower on the east bank of the Tigris River in downtown Baghdad. The bombs were twice the size of the bunker busting bombs that were being used before.

    The bombing attack, aimed at disrupting communication between Saddam and his military leaders, gutted a seven-story telephone exchange, leaving the street strewn with rubble.

    Air strikes also targeted positions of the Republican Guard, Saddam's best-trained, best-equipped fighters, in a ring outside the city.

    Seven people were killed and 92 others wounded in the strikes, Information Minister Mohammed al-Sahhaf said.

    In Basra, members of Britain's 7th Armored Brigade were trying to neutralize the fire, evacuate the civilians and preparing to treat any casualties, said Lt. Col. Ronnie McCourt, a spokesman for British forces in the Gulf.

    McCourt said a "couple of thousand" Iraqi civilians had tried to break out of the city in the north and west, but came under fire from Iraqi paramilitary forces inside.

    McCourt said the 7th Armored Brigade fired on the Iraqis who were attacking the fleeing civilians.

    "We are trying to save the people, return fire and rescue civilians," he said.

    He said forces of the 1st Black Watch battalion in Warrior armored fighting vehicles were trying to wedge themselves between the militia fire and the civilian targets.

    British forces have ringed the southern city — Iraq's second largest with a population of 1.3 million — in hopes of eliminating units still loyal to Saddam and opening the way for badly needed humanitarian aid.

    "Our interpretation of this is here perhaps are the first pieces of evidence of Iraqi people trying to break free from the Baath party regime and the militia," Col. Chris Vernon, a spokesman in southern Iraq for British forces, told Sky News Television. "And clearly the militia don't want that. They want to keep their population in there, and they fired on them to force them back in."

    Basra - Iraq's second largest city, and one dominated by a different ethnic group than that which rules the Iraqi government - has been struggling with food and water shortages for days.
    • Joel Roberts

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