Baghdad pounded by air assault

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 22, 2003

On Saturday, coalition soldiers crossed the Euphrates River in Iraq, putting them 150 miles into the country and halfway to Baghdad in just a few days.

With the resistance at Basra and Umm Qasr behind them, the biggest hurdle between them and the heart of the conflict seems only to be the desert.

But Baghdad still looms in front of them and officials have made it clear the war is not over.

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President George Bush said &uot;things are going well,&uot; but he warned the war could still be &uot;lengthy and dangerous.&uot;

In the south, it was rumored that Ali Hassan al-Majid al-Tikriti. Saddam Hussein's chief enforcer was commanding military and security forces in most of southern Iraq.

The Iraqi official earned the nickname &uot;Chemical Ali&uot; for his use of chemical weapons to slaughter thousands of Kurds in the 1980s.

The name may stir up feelings of anxiety for families back home, but the use of chemical weapons thus far has not been confirmed.

An Iraqi al-Fatah missile fired on Kuwait was identified by the Kuwaiti military as one of the weapons banned by the United Nations, but the kind of weapon - and type of warhead -had not been confirmed.

According to reports, U.S. special operations troops have yet to find Scud missiles and chemical or biological weapons. Officials are not saying where in Iraq the searches are taking place.

In a news conference at the Pentagon, Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iraqi soldiers had not fired Scud missiles, nor have troops searching two airfields in western Iraq found evidence of missiles or launchers.

However, McChrystal and other officials claim Scud missiles left over from the first Persian Gulf War had not been accounted for.

Saturday was littered with deaths and casualties.

Five people, including a journalist, were killed by a car bomb in northern Iraq near a militant camp linked with al-Qaida.

Another eight people were injured.

In southern Iraq, five journalists were killed; the cause of their death is unknown.

Additionally, three members of a Britain ITN news crew are missing and one is injured after coming under fire on their way to Basra.

In Kuwait, 13 soldiers were wounded after a grenade was tossed into an officer's tent.

Reports surmise the soldiers were wounded by gunfire that took place after the officers evacuated their tent.

An American soldier was taken into custody.

In total, the death count on Saturday had reached 11 U.S. troops-six killed in combat and five in non-combat situations, six journalists and 14 British troops.

Iraqi medics said 50 people were killed in the U.S. bombing around Basra including an entire family and a Russian citizen.

As of Saturday, 1,000 to 2,000 Iraqi soldiers have surrendered and many more are deserting.

The United States has blanketed Iraq with cruise missiles from afar. So far, U.S. forces have launched over 1,000 cruise missiles into Iraq. In the entire first Persian Gulf War, approximately 320 such missiles were used.