HIGHWAY 80 IN SOUTHERN IRAQ (AP) – Allied forces crossed the
Euphrates River and were halfway to Baghdad on Saturday, their
swift advance unimpeded by lingering resistance in the cities of
Basra and Umm Qasr. The biggest hurdle: moving the massive military
machine across the desert.

Louie Meizlish
AP PHOTO – Tanks from the 7 Armored Brigade of the British Army advance toward Iraq from Kuwait Saturday.

Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said
forces had moved 150 miles into Iraqi territory. “The forces have
moved with impressive speed thus far,” he said.

In the southern city of Basra, they faced artillery and
machine-gun fire. So rather than risk a bloody urban battlefield in
a city of 2 million, the allies took what they needed — an airport
and a bridge — and moved on, leaving British forces behind.

“This is about liberation, not occupation,” Gen. Tommy Franks
said.

Skirmishes — sometimes with stiff resistance — took place at
the front end of the advance. Iraqi state television reported
fighting between Iraqi ruling Baath party militias and U.S.-British
forces near the Shiite holy city of Najaf, 95 miles south of
Baghdad. It said the top Baath party official in Najaf was
killed.

U.S. Army infantry battled Iraqi troops throughout the day at
the city of As-Samawah, downriver from Najaf and 150 miles south of
Baghdad, as the Americans seized two bridges across a canal near
the Euphrates’ southern bank.

Iraqi fire forced the Americans to pull back from the bridges
for a time, until they called in a barrage of artillery fire and
secured the crossings, an Army Times correspondent with the unit
reported. Forty Iraqi soldiers were killed, but continued firing
slowed the Americans’ advance Saturday evening.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army took Nasiriyah, another major crossing
point over the Euphrates northwest of Basra, Central Command
said.

Near the Persian Gulf, Marines seized an Iraqi Naval base Sunday
morning at Az Zubayr, a town that saw earlier saw room-to-room
fighting with Iraqi soldiers.

Coalition troops were still trying to mop up resistance at the
main Gulf port of Umm Qasr so it can be used for humanitarian
shipments. They faced street-to-street fighting against guerrillas,
among them members of Saddam Hussein’s Fedayeen, the Baath Party
paramilitary organization.

“It’s easy to sit in a window and fire a rifle,” said Lt. Col.
Chris Vernon, a British military spokesman. He said some had
changed into civilian clothing to blend in with the population.

“The Americans would actually say, `We’ve seen this guy, we let
him go, and here he pops up again fighting,” Vernon said.

A dozen miles north of Umm Qasr, Marines engaged a couple of
Iraqi tanks and light armored vehicles.

Echo company’s 1st Platoon of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit
saw action when it tried to clear bunkers near Umm Qasr.

“There was smoke everywhere. It’s our first time in Iraq, and
you see these four guys walking toward you with their hands up. We
knew they were surrendering,” said platoon leader Lt. William Todd
Jacobs, 24, of Cincinnati.

“But then somebody shouts, ‘There’s two in the hole! There’s two
in the hole!'” Jacobs said.

The Marines shot both, then threw in a grenade that blew a plume
of sand and black smoke out of the bunker.

For the first time, F/A-18 Hornets launched from the USS Kitty
Hawk dropped bombs; in hundreds of missions in the war’s first
three days, they were called off targets because ground forces took
them without a fight.

On Saturday, four Hornets from the Kitty Hawk’s Golden Dragons
squadron reported dropping seven laser-guided bombs on artillery
pieces at Al-Qurnah, north of Basra, in support of the advancing
1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said Lt. j.g. Nicole Kratzer,
spokeswoman for the ship’s air wing.

Marines seized the Az Zubayr Navy base, 30 miles north of Umm
Qasr, on Sunday without resistance. But the town itself was strewn
with the husks of Iraqi military trucks after fighting Friday and
Saturday.

Nearly 60 percent of the Iraq”s 32 Mechanized Infantry Brigade
had deserted before the Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Regiment,
entered the town early Friday. But the brigade’s remaining 300
members fought Marines from room to room in their barracks and
headquarters.

On Saturday after the fighting, the broken pieces of hundreds of
Kalashnikov rifles were scattered on a road around the smoking,
charred flatbed truck that had been carrying them. The truck’s
batteries had already been removed by looters.

Farther down, the road was blocked by a truck that had been
hauling an artillery piece until a tank shell crushed it. Another
truck was in flames, its driver mostly burned to ashes.

Franks, the U.S. commander, said 1,000 to 2,000 prisoners were
in custody, and thousands of others had deserted.

Not far from Umm Qasr, nine Iraqi soldiers fled Marine tank fire
and drove their Nissan pickup truck up to a U.S. military convoy to
surrender. Some waved a large white flag as they stood in the
truck’s bed; there were teenagers and older men, all dressed in
civilian clothes.

Hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles lined Highway 80 — the
road to Basra, nicknamed the “Highway of Death” during the 1991
Gulf War when U.S. airstrikes wiped out an Iraqi military convoy
fleeing Kuwait.

The roadside was dotted with Iraqi tanks blackened by direct
hits on their dirt bunkers. White flags flew over some deserted,
dilapidated barracks, including one where a white cloth had been
hung over a picture of Saddam Hussein.

At one of the barracks, Iraqis emerged to surrender, stumbling
across a rutted field clutching bags of belongings. As Marines
moved toward them, the Iraqis knelt in the field with their arms
crossed behind their heads.

Elsewhere groups of Iraqi men in civilian clothes stood near the
highway. Allied officers believed they were Iraqi soldiers who had
fled their barracks and changed from their uniforms before Marines
and British forces arrived.

Just outside Nasiriyah, traffic along the U.S. military supply
route _ flatbeds, Humvees and other vehicles _ was so heavy it
sometimes came to a standstill, a massive jam extending back to the
Kuwait border.

There, much of the allied forces waited Saturday in long columns
of vehicles to cross into Iraq. It did not escape their notice that
they might be an inviting target for enemy fire.

“It would be tragic if the Iraqis had some artillery,” said 2nd
Lt. Sarah Skinner of Vassar, Mich., a platoon leader.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *