U.S. meets resistance in South, Iraqi central command quiet

Friday, March 21, 2003

NICOSIA The United States forces are heading toward Basra in the initial stage of a ground assault as intelligence from Baghdad indicated the central command under Saddam Hussein may be either incapacitated or incommunicado.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested that President Saddam Hussein or his sons might have been injured or rendered incommunicado by a bombing attack on what he termed an Iraqi leadership compound in Baghdad on Thursday. Pentagon aides said Iraqi resistance around Baghdad is lighter and less coordinated than expected and could reflect the absence of a central command as military commanders are trying to communicate with U.S. forces.

Heavy Iraqi resistance, however, was reported in battles between U.S. Marine Corps forces and Iraqi artillery gunners in several areas in southern Iraq. They included fighting in the city of Umm Qasr and along points near Kuwaiti border.

The target of the U.S. and British forces appeared to be Iraqi oil fields in the region, dozens of which have already been set ablaze.

Reports from the front indicated a slow and deliberate allied advance into southern Iraq from Kuwait. U.S. officials said the advance now reported at 150 kilometers into Iraq reflects the hope that Iraqi generals will overthrow the Saddam regime before any ground assault on Baghdad.

"Any war plan has flexibility built into it," Rumsfeld said on Thursday. "The minute things start, one has to take account of the realities that you find in the world. To not do that would be a terrible mistake."

At the same time, marginal Iraqi resistance was reported from Basra, about 130 kilometers from the Kuwaiti border. Arab reports said a senior Iraqi Republican Guard commander in Basra defected to allied forces.

During the assault on Umm Qasr, a U.S. Marine C-46 helicopter crashed south of the Iraqi port. All 12 people on board, comprised of the U.S. crew and British marines, were killed.

U.S. bombers, fighter-jets and cruise missiles also struck targets in Baghdad. Iraqi gunners fired anti-aircraft artillery and missiles toward the U.S. warplanes.

U.S. officials said the war in Iraq will introduce a range of new weapons. On Thursday, the Pentagon awarded an $8.8 million contract to Talley Defense Systems for the production of 6,091 shoulder-launched rockets for the marines meant to destroy bunkers and armored vehicles.

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