Coalition Forces Move Closer to Baghdad

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Precision bombing hit Baghdad and cities in northern Iraq Saturday and early Sunday while coalition troops moved within 150 kilometers (100 miles) of Baghdad.

The commander of the U.S.-led war, Gen. Tommy Franks, said Saturday said from his headquarters in Doha, Qatar, that coalition forces had swept beyond the farthest point of penetration in the 1991 Gulf War, and in one-quarter the amount of time — a performance he described as “magnificent.”


“We have operations ongoing in the north, in the west, in the south, and in and around Baghdad,” he said. “Our troops are performing as we would expect –magnificently. And, indeed, the outcome is not in doubt. There may well be tough days ahead. But the forces on the field will achieve the objectives that have been set out by the governments of this coalition.”

Franks appeared with British, Australian, Dutch and Danish military commanders in his first news briefing since the war began early Thursday. He said military operations were under way across Iraq, including in and around the capital, Baghdad, insisting the Iraq campaign was “unlike any other in history.”

Meanwhile, 13 U.S. servicemen from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division were wounded in a grenade attack in the tents of Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait, U.S. Central Command confirmed. One civilian witness told UPI that two grenades were thrown into two tents in what were believed to be staff quarters of one of the brigades in the division, and that at least four soldiers were seriously wounded at the closely guarded base, some 15 miles outside Kuwait City.

A U.S. soldier was taken into custody as a suspect, a reporter embedded with the 101st, Charles Clover of the Financial Times, told CNN. He said he could not say whether the soldier was suspected of taking part or somehow facilitating the attack. A CentCom spokeswoman said she could only say the attack was under investigation.

In other developments, coalition forces captured the southern town of Nassiriya, Franks said.

He said Iraqi forces in Basra continued to resist U.S. and British troops fighting on the outskirts of the southern Iraqi city. Coalition forces were avoiding heavy city fighting, Franks said. Instead, he said, forces were surrounding the city, trying to arrange for Iraqi surrenders, or ascertain that the forces there did not pose a threat to their logistics line before moving north to Baghdad.

“Our intent is not to move through and create military confrontations in that city. Rather we expect that we will work with Basra and the citizens in Basra, the same way I believe has been widely reported in Umm Qasr,” Franks said.

Coalition forces Friday took control of Umm Qasr, a key port city south of Basra.

As darkness fell Saturday night across the region, sporadic but steady explosions were heard in Baghdad and the Northern Iraq cities Mosul and Kirkuk, two oil-rich centers on the periphery of the Kurdish enclave. The United States is particularly anxious to secure them after retreating Iraqi soldiers set fire to several oil wells in the southern oil fields.

In Turkey on Saturday, a top Turkish official denied that Turkish troops had already entered Northern Iraq while insisting the ongoing talks between his country and the United States would not lead to the severance of relations.

However, “we will enter there when and if the conditions require or ripen,” said Abdullah Gul in an exclusive interview with Turkish NTV channel. Gul, a member of the ruling AK Party, is both deputy prime minister and foreign minister under the new government formed after March 8 elections. He was previously prime minister.

The United States has discouraged Turkey from sending more troops into northern Iraq because of fears conflict may erupt between Turkish troops and Kurd forces there. The Kurds there remember the bloody clashes between Turkey and separatist Turkish Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and are determined to protect the autonomy they have enjoyed in Northern Iraq for the last decade under protection of a U.S.- and British-enforced no-fly zone.

Qubad Talabani, the deputy Washington representative for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said 1,500 Turkish troops had already crossed late Friday into northern Iraq. He said an additional 8,500 troops were arrayed on the Turkish side of the border.

“We are very concerned about unilateral Turkish actions,” Talabani said. The PUK and another group, the Kurdish Democratic Party, each control parts of the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq.

British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon, asked Saturday about the scale of destruction in Baghdad, said the degree of force was calibrated to destroy leadership assets while leaving civilian infrastructure intact.

“The lights stay on in Baghdad but the instruments of tyranny are collapsing,” Hoon said.

Outside Basra, an 8,000-man division of the Iraqi army was reported to have given up while hundreds of others surrendered elsewhere. An Iraqi official in Baghdad denied the surrender had taken place. CNN Saturday reported negotiations may be under way for a mass surrender of all Iraqi troops in the area of Iraq’s second largest city.

In the north, Turkey added to its several thousand buffer troops in Iraqi territory despite U.S. objections, while Iraqi Kurds said several thousand more Turks were just over the border back in Turkey.

U.S. military officials said they still did not see evidence that Iraq’s central military command is functioning normally, suggesting top government figures — perhaps Saddam Hussein himself — were taken out of action by the precise targeting of what was believed to be a leadership meeting Wednesday night.

President George W. Bush monitored the war against Iraq from the Camp David presidential retreat Saturday, meeting with his war council, speaking with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and telling the nation in his weekly radio address that it cannot “live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.”

The vivid images of Friday’s intense Baghdad attacks signaled a major escalation of the Iraq operation. United Press International’s reporter in Baghdad, as well as television viewers worldwide, could see one of the structures afire was a presidential palace of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

“Military command and control installations, structures and buildings were the targeted sites. Other cities with military sites targeted were the northern towns of Kirkuk, Mosul and Tikrit,” said a statement from U.S. military headquarters in Qatar.

The Pentagon on Saturday identified the two U.S. Marines killed Friday in southern Iraq. They were: 2nd Lt. Therrel S. Childers, 30, of Harrison, Miss.; and Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, 22, of Los Angeles.

Defense Department officials also released the identity of the American officer killed when two Royal Navy Sea King helicopters collided over the Persian Gulf.

Killed was Navy Lt. Thomas Mullen Adams, 27, of La Mesa, Calif. Adams had been assigned as an exchange officer with the Royal Navy’s 849 Squadron since October.

”’With reporting by Richard Tomkins with the 5th Marine Regimental Combat Team, Pamela Hess from the Pentagon, Thomas Houlahan in Washington, Seva Ulman in Ankara, Turkey, Elizabeth Bryant in Paris, Gareth Harding in Brussels, Martin Walker in Kuwait City, and Hussein Hindawi in London.”’

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.