Allied soldiers inched toward Baghdad yesterday and pressed their campaign on a southern redoubt of Saddam Hussein loyalists, trying at every turn to gain trust from Iraqi citizens and stay safe from those who may be combatants in disguise.

Shabina Khatri
LEFT: A boy looks on as U.S. Army military intelligence officer questions Iraqi bedouins, who welcomed the American soldiers with white flags and told them about nearby Iraqi troop movements in the desert of central Iraq Sunday. RIGHT: The offi
Shabina Khatri

The military campaign has increasingly become a confidence-building one, too, and not only in Iraq. U.S. war leaders, deployed on the airwaves yesterday, defended their strategy as a sound one and cast the painstaking pace of recent days as a virtue.

“We have the power to be patient in this, and we’re not going to do anything before we’re ready,” said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

U.S. and British allies reported increased contacts with ordinary Iraqis on many fronts yesterday, a development measured – like the march toward Baghdad – in wary steps.

The reason for the caution was clear: persistent danger from plainclothes killers and warnings from Iraqi officials that there will be more suicide attacks like the one that took the lives of four Americans in Najaf. Iraqis said some 4,000 Arabs have come to Iraq to help attack the invaders.

Airstrikes on Baghdad will continue today against Iraqi leadership targets, command and control centers and communications facilities, Pentagon officials said. A fire was burning at the government’s Information Ministry after strikes by Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The Army’s 101st Airborne Division surrounded Najaf yesterday and was in position to begin rooting out the paramilitary forces inside the city, said Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin Hill.

In Nasiriyah, where fighting has been fierce for a week, Marines secured buildings held by an Iraqi infantry division that contained large caches of weapons and chemical decontamination equipment.

A Marine UH-1 Huey helicopter crashed last night at a forward supply and refueling point in southern Iraq, said a spokesman, 1st Lt. John Niemann, in Kuwait. Three people aboard were killed and one was injured in the crash that occurred while the helicopter was taking off.

Questions grew in Washington over the war’s pace.

Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia said the U.S.-led invasion is clearly facing more Iraqi resistance than anticipated and the war plan will probably have to be adjusted to deal with that.

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