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Marine Dies in Action

Marine Dies in Action

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- A U.S. Marine died in action, becoming the first allied combat casualty of the Iraq war, as American forces pushed through the Iraqi desert and ripped down street portraits of Saddam Hussein in occupied territory.

The soldier was from the U.S. 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Lt. Col. Neal Peckham, a British military spokesman in Kuwait, said Friday. Military officials said the Marine died in the advance on the Rumeila oil field.

U.S. Central Command gave no other details.

President Bush was informed of the death early Friday and expressed his regrets.

Hours earlier, eight British and four American soldiers died in a U.S. Marine helicopter crash that a British military spokesman said was an accident.

Eight of the 14 B-52 bombers at Fairford air base in western England took off Friday as night approached in Iraq, portending a third night of air strikes, which have been limited so far but apparently effective in shaking Iraq's leadership.

American and British troops encountered both hostile fire and white flags in their sprint across the desert, with some 200 Iraqi soldiers surrendering to the U.S. 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit just over an hour after it crossed the border from northern Kuwait.

Iraqi defenders offered stiff resistance in some pockets, firing intense artillery barrages that were answered in kind.

But in Safwan, just across the Kuwait border, Iraqis watched and in some cases helped as U.S. Marines rigged chains to giant portraits of the Iraqi president and tore them down. Townspeople mostly hid from the occupying force. Some patted their stomach to beg for food.

Maj. David "Bull" Gurfein, pumping his fist in the air, led a milling crowd of citizens in chants of "Iraqis, Iraqis, Iraqis!" A young man in a headscarf told Gurfein: "No Saddam Hussein. Bush!"

Holding back on a massive air assault, the allied force has been using limited airstrikes and a lightning-fast ground assault as efforts intensify to get Iraqi soldiers, even the Republican Guard units considered loyal to Saddam Hussein, to give up.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said direct talks were taking place with Iraqi forces and it was possible the "full force and fury of a war" could be averted.

"There are communications in every conceivable mode and method, public and private," he said after meeting lawmakers Thursday night.

A Democratic lawmaker expressed similar optimism. "The behavior of those who've not surrendered would suggest that they might," Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., said after being briefed by military officials.

American officials said they had strong indications no one was in charge of Iraq's government and armed forces.

But a decree issued in Saddam's name offered Iraqis rewards for killing or capturing the invaders -- the equivalent of $14,000 for killing one and $28,000 for taking one alive.

Military officials said no hostile fire was reported in the area of the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crash, which was in Kuwait about 9 miles south of the Iraqi border town of Umm Qasr.

The crash happened as U.S. Army and Marine units, joined by their British comrades in arms, surged across the Kuwaiti border into southern Iraq on Thursday and Friday, working at first to secure the region's oil wells, several of which had been set afire.

Opening the ground action, Marine expedition and Army special forces were sent into Iraq to put forces in a better position to protect the oil-rich Basra region after Iraqis set a small number of oil wells on fire, military officials said. Later, the bulk of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division and the Marine Corps' 1st Expeditionary Force rumbled across the border into Iraq.

Many of the troops passed burning oil wells that sent plumes of acrid, black smoke into the dusty desert sky.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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