U.S. Intensifies Bombing of Baghdad; Hits Communications Center, 'Confident' Chemical Arms Hidden near City

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 28, 2003 | Go to article overview
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U.S. Intensifies Bombing of Baghdad; Hits Communications Center, 'Confident' Chemical Arms Hidden near City


Byline: Rowan Scarborough, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The allies accelerated the bombing of Baghdad last night by striking the city's telecommunications building, while the Pentagon said it has pinpointed a site outside Baghdad that may hold prohibited chemical weapons.

The Defense Department said more than 100,000 additional ground troops are headed to the Persian Gulf to bolster an American ground presence of fewer than 100,000 now inside Iraq and poised to fight major tank battles.

A special-operations source said it is not yet known whether the United States will prove to the world that Iraq harbors chemical weapons. Weapons analysts have not yet gained access to the site or tested materials believed to be there.

A senior Pentagon official said last night, "We are confident chemical weapons are hidden around Iraq and we will find them during the course of the war or afterwards."

President Bush has sent troops to topple Saddam Hussein and rid Iraq of large stocks of weapons of mass destruction prohibited by a series of U.N. resolutions. An early discovery would back up the president's arguments for war and could cool antiwar fervor around the world.

Both American and British forces already have discovered Iraqi chemical-protection suits stored with other stashes of weapons and ammunition. They say the suits are evidence that Saddam plans to use mustard and VX gas.

"We do have evidence that the Iraqi regime is prepared to use weapons of mass destruction," British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said yesterday.

Yesterday's pre-midnight air strikes, designed to isolate Saddam's regime from his troops, came at the end of a day in which wicked sandstorms finally swept out of central Iraq after a week's pounding.

The lull provided allied pilots a clearer shot at Republican Guard tanks and armored vehicles defending Baghdad.

Navy and Air Force precision bombs struck at Saddam's most professional fighting force in anticipation of a major land battle, perhaps this weekend around the town of Karbala. It would pit the U.S. Army's 5th Corps and its M1-A1 Abrams tanks and Apache helicopters against the Guard's Medina division of about 12,000 soldiers and Soviet T-72 tanks.

"Karbala is shaping up to be a key battle," said Lt. Col. Paul Grosskruger of the 94th Engineers Battalion in the 3rd Infantry Division. "It's being reinforced and it's fairly well defended."

Commanders said that in Karbala a force of about 6,000 Iraqis are dug in, with a mix of Republican Guard and regular army soldiers.

The 5th Corps for the third straight day had to cope with marauding paramilitary guerrillas such as the Fedayeen. Fighting continued south of Karbala around the town of Najaf.

Saddam has sent the fanatical fighters south in trucks, buses and on foot to launch what have amounted to suicide charges against better-equipped armored units. The 7th Cavalry unit killed as many as 300 irregulars in one fight in a blinding sandstorm Tuesday night, without suffering a U.S. combat death.

With Baghdad less than 70 miles away for the 5th Corps, the Iraqi Defense Minister sounded especially defiant yesterday. He invited coalition troops to enter Baghdad and engage in door-to-door urban combat.

"The enemy can bypass the resistance and go in the desert as far as it wants," said Sultan Hashim Ahmed. "In the end, where can he go? He has to enter the city. ... We will fight to the end and everywhere."

Central Command has changed tactics to find and destroy the marauders.

"I won't get into the operational details, but Gen. [Tommy] Franks has taken means to deal with this group," Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, told a Senate panel. "It's tough to characterize them, because of the way they act."

With the drive to Baghdad slowed by wind-whipped sand and the fight-to-the-death Fedayeen, the United States is moving thousands more ground troops into the region.

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