WITH THE 5TH MARINES, Iraq, March 31 (UPI) — Three Marines were slightly injured in central Iraq Monday by the explosion of a bomb cluster from a U.S. shell that went off as they were digging defensive positions.

One man received a shell fragment in the back of the head, another to the neck and the third man received leg wounds, but none of the injuries was considered serious and the injured were treated on the spot.

The incident came just a few hours after Iraqis attempted to fire mortars on positions held by Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, who at the start of the war had captured gas and oil facilities in the oil fields of southern Iraq.

The mortar fire fell far short of the Marines’ position and U.S. 155mm cannons replied, lighting up the predawn sky. The mortars were not heard from again.

The mortar attack came about three days after the 5th Marines Regiment stopped their advance and hunkered down for re-supply.

“Operations Standstill,” “Operation Do-Nothing,” some Marines said of the break in advance.

“I wish we’d get moving, the sooner we get to Baghdad, the sooner I get home,” said Cpl. Jason Malley, from Buffalo, N.Y.

Fixed in the minds of the Marines living in harsh conditions, Baghdad is the symbol for a ticket home. Malley’s wife is expecting their first child in early June.

Later Monday the regiment resumed its march toward a destination and an Iraqi army unit the details of which cannot be disclosed.

The deeper into central Iraq the regiment penetrates, the more green the countryside appears, with large swathes of palm trees and brush along the deserts and small canals.

As the regiment’s convoy — which stretched all the way to the horizon — passed villages, people stood by their doors to watch. They did not wave but watched silently as the vehicles crept by.

Much of the convoy consists of 26-ton amphibious assault vehicles that move at about 15 mph. The vehicles, depending on model, get gas mileage of between 1.5 to 3 miles per gallon.

The Marines are facing wide-ranging weather conditions. It is freezing cold and damp at night while the days are hot — a situation exacerbated by the wearing of full-body chemical-weapons protection suits.

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