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CAMP AS SAYLIYAH (AP) -- U.S. troops defeated Iraqi forces at the southern city of An Nasiriyah in the sharpest engagement of the war so far, U.S. Central Command said Sunday. It said about 10 soldiers were killed and 12 were reported missing after Iraqis ambushed an army supply convoy.
Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said the ambush came after allied forces met a unit outside of An Nasiriyah that showed signs it was prepared to surrender. The forces came under fire while preparing to accept what appeared to be surrendering forces.
"We of course will be much more cautious in the way we view the battlefield as a result of some of these incidents," said Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid. But he stressed that coalition forces would continue to place high priority on avoiding civilian casualties.
"It was a tough day of fighting for the coalition," Brooks said, adding that the Iraqis destroyed the six coalition vehicles in the ambush. Abizaid called the fighting there the "sharpest engagement of the war thus far."
Iraqi military officials claimed earlier that 25 American soldiers were killed in the operation in An Nasiriyah, a major crossing point over the Euphrates River northwest of Basra.
Abizaid, speaking at the Qatar headquarters of U.S. Central Command, said he thought fewer than 10 troops were killed in the fighting and that "a number" of troops were wounded.
He said coalition forces encountered significant resistance in the city.
Brooks said the military believed the 12 missing soldiers were "in the custody of the irregular forces that conducted the ambush, and their status is not known." Abizaid said the captors were either Republican Guard forces or Iraqi guerrillas.
Abizaid said some of the 12 missing soldiers "ended up on Baghdad TV."
Earlier Sunday, the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera relayed Iraqi television footage of interviews with what the station identified as captured American prisoners, and also showed bodies in uniform in an Iraqi morgue that it said were Americans. The station said they and the prisoners were captured around Nasiriyah.
Abizaid said the airing of the footage by Iraqi television of the captured troops was a violation of the Geneva conventions because Iraqi TV is a state television station and questioning the prisoners was an effort to humiliate them.
"It is not right, and we will hold them accountable for their actions," he said.
Abizaid said he thought the main reason there haven't been mass surrenders on the same scale as in the 1991 Gulf War is that Iraqi forces were trapped in Kuwait.
"They were a long way from home," he said.
When asked about the allied timetable for advancing on Iraq, Abizaid "we are on track. We will arrive in the vicinity of Baghdad soon."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)