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Marines Wage Firefight in South-Central Iraq

Marines Wage Firefight in South-Central Iraq

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SOUTH-CENTRAL IRAQ (AP) -- U.S. Marines waged a firefight against Iraqi forces Tuesday in and around the town of Diwaniyah and took at least 20 prisoners, according to reports from the field.

American warplanes also hammered defensive positions south of Baghdad overnight and dropped bombs on an Iraqi presidential yacht and another ship in the southern port of Basra, Navy officials said.

A Patriot missile battery destroyed a missile fired from south of Baghdad at U.S. forces in central Iraq, said Capt. Pat Costello of the 101st Airborne Division. A chemical alarm detector was set up to determine if any chemical weapons were used.

U.S. forces are still trying to determine what kind of missile was fired.

An Iraqi missile was also shot down by a Patriot missile battery before it reached Kuwait, the military said.

The Marine intelligence analyst said there was heavy bombing Tuesday of Kut in southeastern Iraq to clear the way for ground forces.

Marine ground forces also have secured an airbase at Qalat Sukkar, southeast of Kut, that is expected to serve as a staging ground.

Around Diwaniyah, 75 miles southeast of Baghdad, Marines came under fire from artillery and mortars. Hundreds of Iraqi fighters with rocket-propelled grenades and rifles were said to be inside the town.

Marine 155mm howitzers miles away opened fire on Iraqi mortar positions, tanks and bunkers.

There were no report of Marine casualties.

At least three Iraqis were wounded: Two very thin Iraqi soldiers who had been shot in the legs and were being treated with their hands bound behind their backs with silver duct tape; and an older man who had been shot in the back and leg.

The Marines were guarding five men who had surrendered.

Overnight, warplanes struck at Iraqi positions around Karbala and Hindiyah, about 50 miles short of Baghdad, in a U.S. effort to open the way for the invasion of Baghdad by American forces massing outside the city.

The bombing was in support of the Army's V Corps and hit surface-to-air missile sites and a bridge across the Euphrates River, said Lt. j.g. Nicole Kratzer, a spokeswoman for the air wing of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk.

On Monday, Army forces fought pitched battles at Hindiyah against Republican Guards and other Iraqi loyalists.

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

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