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Marines Overtake Umm Qasr

Marines Overtake Umm Qasr

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) -- U.S. Marines are in full control of the strategic port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq, a British military spokeswoman said Friday.

"Umm Qsar has been taken by the 15th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) which is under (British) command," the spokeswoman said.

Umm Qasr, located along the Kuwait border about 290 miles southeast of Baghdad, would give U.S. and British forces access to a port for military and humanitarian supplies and speed the clearing of Iraqi resistance in the south.

The ground attack on Umm Qasr followed a night of intense shelling by U.S. and British forces in the area.


IN THE KUWAIT-IRAQ DEMILITARIZED ZONE (AP) -- U.S. Marines, after a night of heavy shelling, moved in Friday to seize the strategic port of Umm Qsar on the Kuwait border as fierce fighting continued in the southern Iraq city.

The Marines captured at least 200 prisoners after attacking early Friday, a U.S. military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. They were still meeting pockets of Iraqi resistance.

"We've taken most of the port," the official said. "We're not done securing it at this time."

Day broke with U.S. and British forces responding to the Iraqis with artillery, and muzzle blasts breaking like lightning, sending frightened dogs running across the roads of abandoned farm towns. Jets attacked one position to the west of Umm Qasr, lights sparking in the air as bombs dropped.

The Marines launched the ground attack on Umm Qsar following a night of intense shelling by U.S. and British forces.

The city is a key to the allied war effort since it would provide a port for military and humanitarian supplies, and could hasten the end of Iraqi resistance in the area.

Marines taking control of the main highway leading to the key port city of Basra, the heart of Iraq's southern oil facilities, ran into mortar fire.

A U.S. Marine died after being wounded during the advance on the Rumeila oil field, the military said.

Thick smoke filled the skies from fires at some of the many oil wells and processing facilities in the region, where pipelines funnel Iraq's economic lifeblood through the al-Faw peninsula to the Persian Gulf.

Iraqi troops set fire to about 30 of the hundreds of oil wells in the region, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said.

British troops took the southern portion of the peninsula in the first hours of the ground war, but at a cost: eight British and four U.S. Marines died when their CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed.

U.S. forces took the border town of Safwan, where residents waved at Marines but said little. A woman threw herself to the feet of soldiers until a man hurriedly came and led her away. Another man showed a bloody hand and said his wife had been shot in the leg by the Americans.

Another man, who identified himself only as Abdullah, said he welcomed the arrival of the U.S. troops: "We're very happy. Saddam Hussein is no good. Saddam Hussein a butcher."

Iraq's forces appear to have pulled back to Basra. "Iraq officers have split and run right back to Basra," said Capt. Joe Tlenzler, a spokesman for the 1st Marine Division.

At one point, reporters with a U.S. troops in southern Iraq saw Marines sweeping Iraqi soldiers from around a burning pumping station as thick black smoke billowed hundreds of feet into the air. One Iraqi soldier was shot and killed by American forces as he tried to escape on a motorcycle.

Hoon called the peninsula's capture "certainly a significant strategic success. It means that we have a bridgehead from which to operate, but crucially it means that part of the plan of the Iraqi authorities to destroy their oil wealth has been averted."

The 1st Marine Division needed air support to suppress Iraqi mortar and small arms fire while seizing Route 80, which leads from Kuwait to Basra.

"Every now and then they pop off to let us know they're still there," said Lt. Col. Steve Holmes, a Marine in charge of clearing berms for troops and armor to enter Iraq.

Supported by Cobra attack helicopters and howitzers, Marine tanks and armored vehicles rolled down Route 80 through the demilitarized zone between Kuwait and Iraq.

Tanks were placed on berms to provide cover for Marines moving on the road.

Until then, the Marines had taken side roads. Route 80 allowed a faster approach to Basra itself for hundreds of Marine vehicles.

The Marines had encountered resistance in the area for several hours Friday morning after moving to attack nearby Safwan, which fell within hours.

The military continued to broadcast warnings to civilians in the area on loudspeakers to stay indoors, and urged Iraqi troops to surrender.

On the Kuwait side, Marines in a sandbagged watchtower directed mortar fire at the Iraq side, where U.S. troops have watched the Iraqis, who appeared to be either digging defensive positions or setting land mines. "We'll find out soon enough," Holmes said.

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

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