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U.S., British Forces Push Toward Basra

U.S., British Forces Push Toward Basra

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(AP) - Leaving throngs of captured Iraqis behind them in razor-wire pens, U.S. and British forces advanced toward southern Iraq's largest city Saturday while air strikes pounded far-flung targets across the country. The U.S. commander boasted that the overall campaign will be "unlike any other in history."

U.S. aircraft bombed Iraqi tanks holding the bridges near Basra, a city of 1.3 million, and Marines captured the airport after a gunbattle. To the north, U.S. infantry and airborne units pushed over the desert toward central Iraq on the second day of the ground offensive.

In Baghdad, explosions were heard throughout the day, but not at the intensity of the fierce overnight bombardment that shattered one of Saddam's palaces and destroyed the nine-story intelligence headquarters.

"The lights stayed on in Baghdad, but the instruments of tyranny are collapsing," said British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon.

West of Baghdad, along the Euphrates River, another of Saddam's palaces was destroyed Saturday in a strike by warplanes from the USS Theodore Roosevelt, according to a commander aboard the carrier in the Mediterranean. And in far-north Iraq, U.S. forces fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at suspected positions of the Ansar al Islam guerrillas, which the United States accuses of ties to al-Qaida terrorists.

At a briefing in Doha, Qatar, Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S.-led forces, said the assault on Iraq would be one of "shock, surprise, flexibility," using munitions on a "scale never before seen."

"Our troops are performing magnificently," said Franks, who indicated that surrender negotiations with Iraqi military commanders were in progress.

Franks said he had no idea where Saddam was at present. Regarding weapons of mass destruction, the general said none had been located by the invasion force thus far, but he voiced certainty that some would be found as the troops advance.

Near Basra, Cobra attack helicopters, attack jets, tanks and 155 mm howitzers tried to clear the way for the troops headed up Highway 80 _ nicknamed the "Highway of Death" during the 1991 Gulf War, when U.S. airstrikes destroyed an Iraqi military convoy using it to flee Kuwait.

Along the roadside, a few children waved; others patted their stomachs or lifted their hands to their mouths, signaling hunger.

Left behind were large numbers of malnourished and overmatched Iraqi soldiers who surrendered Friday. Among those giving up were the commander and deputy commander of Iraq's 51st Infantry, the highest-ranking Iraqi officials known to have surrendered thus far.

According to Hoon, most regular Iraqi troops have withdrawn from Basra, but members of Saddam's security forces continued to defend the city.

A British military spokesman, Lt. Col. Chris Vernon, said allied forces hope to avoid bloody urban warfare and will not immediately try to storm Basra. The allies hope that Basra's military and civil leaders can gradually be persuaded to capitulate as they see Saddam's regime losing power.

U.S. and British commanders said their troops captured many key facilities in Iraq's southern oil fields, saving them from possible sabotage and ensuring their use for postwar reconstruction. Only nine oil wells were found to be ablaze _ far fewer than many officials had feared.

Adm. Michael Boyce, chief of the British defense staff, said nearly all the oil and gas installations had been mined or booby-trapped, indicating Saddam was "prepared to blow up his entire economy."

Two U.S. Marines were killed in combat in the area Friday. One U.S. Navy officer died Saturday along with six Britons when two Royal Navy helicopters collided over the Persian Gulf.

U.S. intelligence officials remained uncertain whether Saddam might have been wounded or even killed in the missile strike Wednesday night that opened the war. In any case, said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, "The regime is starting to lose control of their country."

Iraqi officials claimed three people had been killed and more than 200 injured in the bombardment of Baghdad. Iraqi TV said Foreign Minister Naji Sabri sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan complaining that Americans targeted homes, schools, mosques and churches.

Among those hospitalized with shrapnel wounds from the air strikes were Amal Hassan Kamel and her 8-year-old son, Wa'ad, who was crying for his father.

"The Americans have no conscience," Kamel said. "What have our children done to deserve this?"

Yet despite the heavy overnight bombardment, there was more traffic on the streets Saturday than at any time since the war began, and more small shops and restaurants open. In contrast to bombing campaigns of the 1991 Gulf War, all bridges across the Tigris River were intact and the city's water and power supplies functioned normally.

Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf insisted that Iraqi forces were putting up strong resistance in the south and inflicting more casualties on the invaders than were being acknowledged in Washington or London. He contended that the legions of surrendering Iraqis were civilians, not soldiers.

In Japan, New Zealand, Bangladesh and other countries, anti-war protests resumed Saturday, a day after violent protests in several Middle Eastern countries. Gunfire killed three people outside the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, where about 30,000 protesters assembled, and about 10,000 protesters confronted riot police in Cairo, Egypt.

Anti-war demonstrators also marched through the streets of San Francisco and other U.S. cities Friday. Smaller groups elsewhere demonstrated in support of U.S. troops.

In an address at the Vatican, Pope John Paul II denounced the war as a threat against the "fate of humanity."

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