Softening Saddam's Prized Fighters

An abandoned Iraqi T55 tank is secured and inspected by soldiers of the British 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, 16 Air Assault Brigade. American soldiers on the road to Baghdad are engaged in heavy fighting with Iraqi forces loyal to Saddam Hussein, while the U.S.-led coalition launched missiles toward Baghdad and the holy Shiite Muslim city of Karbala.
U.S.-led forces launched missiles Tuesday toward Baghdad and the holy Shiite Muslim city of Karbala to the southwest, as circling warplanes bombed targets in the area.

The coalition has relentlessly targeted Republican Guard positions in and around Baghdad in preparation for the war's likely decisive battle.

American forces have enough bombs and missiles for the Iraq war, despite an intensifying air campaign focused on destroying Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard forces, U.S. military officials say.

Buildings in the capital shuddered in some of the strongest blasts since the air war began March 20. Smoke billowed from the capital's Old Palace presidential compound.

Among the targets, U.S. officials said, was a complex that serves as the office of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee, where Iraqi dissidents say Saddam's son Odai runs a torture center.

U.S. forces battled members of Saddam's Republican Guard Monday in the Euphrates River town of Hindiyah, about 50 miles south of the capital. Troops seized tons of ammunition and hundreds of weapons at the local Baath party headquarters, along with maps showing Iraqi military positions and the expected route of the U.S. attack.

Bombing in the Iraqi capital has also intensified, with repeated hits on the Information Ministry and telephone exchanges aimed at cutting off communications from Saddam's government.

U.S. warplanes used more than 3,000 precision-guided bombs on Iraqi targets over the weekend, compared to about 5,000 in the previous week, said Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said coalition forces had fired more than 700 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The United States can switch to other munitions if it runs low on the $600,000 Tomahawks, said Marine Col. Tom Bright of U.S. Central Command.

The U.S.-led air assault has severely damaged the Republican Guard units defending Baghdad, military officials said Monday. They include the Medina, Hammurabi and Baghdad divisions south of the capital and units of the Nebuchadnezzar division, which is normally stationed far north of Baghdad, which have moved south as reinforcements.

To the south, Marines traded fire Tuesday with hundreds of Iraqi fighters in the town of Diwaniyah. Other units fought to isolate Najaf in an ongoing effort to protect U.S. supply lines.

In the town Diwaniyah, about 80 miles southeast of Baghdad, Marines fought with hundreds of Iraqi fighters who fired on them from inside buildings. At least 20 Iraqis were taken prisoner, including several wounded who were treated by medics. Some Iraqis simply surrendered.

In northern Iraq, commanders said forces searching the recently captured compound of Muslim extremist group Ansar al-Islam found documents, computer discs and other material belonging to Arab fighters — including lists of suspected militants living in the United States. The Bush administration has longed claimed Ansar is linked to the al Qaeda terrorist network, but there has been no indication it has ties to Saddam's regime.

Elsewhere, an Iraqi prisoner was shot to death after he reached for a Marine's weapon while being questioned, Central Command spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owen said Tuesday. He had no other details.

Near the southern port of Basra, warplanes from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk dropped bombs on an Iraqi presidential yacht and another ship, Navy officials said Tuesday.

A missile fired from south of Baghdad at U.S. forces in central Iraq was destroyed by a Patriot missile battery, 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.

Meanwhile, fresh U.S. forces were flowing to the Persian Gulf, including 500 members of an Army cavalry regiment being sent ahead of schedule to help protect U.S. supply lines from Iraqi attack.

McChrystal, vice director of operations on the Pentagon's Joint Staff, told a news conference that more than 300,000 allied forces were in the Gulf region, about 250,000 of them American. Last Friday his boss, Gen. Richard Myers, had put the allied total at 270,000.

McChrystal would not discuss specific missions of the additional forces that were en route to the Gulf or getting ready to go. They included 500 members of the Army's 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment who left their Fort Polk, La., base on Sunday. They and their Humvee scout vehicles, Kiowa reconnaissance helicopters and other equipment were sent by air, enabling them to get to Iraq quicker than if the equipment had been sent by sea as originally planned.

Other members of the 2nd Armored Cavalry were to go by sea.

Iraqi paramilitary forces have launched hit-and-run attacks on supply lines between Kuwait and central Iraq, forcing U.S. commanders to devote more combat resources to protecting those lines.

The Army also was sending the 4th Infantry Division, its showpiece armored force, to Iraq. Members of the Fort Hood, Texas-based division began flying to Kuwait late last week. They originally were to deploy to Turkey to open a northern front against Baghdad, but Turkey refused access.

The first of about three dozen ships carrying the 4th Infantry's equipment arrived in Kuwait on Sunday, and the rest were expected to get there by mid-April. That would appear to make it unlikely the division would be ready in time to participate in a looming battle for Baghdad.

The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, based at Fort Carson, Colo., also was going. Five ships carrying its equipment from ports in Texas were en route to the Gulf, and two more were loading.

Also scheduled to deploy, but not yet moving, was the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood.