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Coalition Forces Closing In on Basra - 2003-03-22


U.S. led forces advanced on the southern Iraqi city of Basra Saturday while the capital of Baghdad was again pounded with air strikes.

For the first time, the commander of coalition forces in the Persian Gulf, U.S. Army General Tommy Franks, briefed reporters on the Iraq operation from his headquarters in Qatar. "We have operations ongoing in the north, in the west, in the south, in and around Baghdad," he said. "Our troops are performing as we would expect - magnificently. And indeed, the outcome is not in doubt."

U.S. and British forces continue to close on the southern city of Basra. But General Franks says he has no plans for an all-out attack on Basra because many regular Iraqi troops appear to have left the area. "We have not seen a large number of [Iraqi military] formations, so our intent is not to move through and create military confrontations in that city," the general said. "Rather, we expect that we will work with Basra and the citizens in Basra in the same way I believe it has been widely reported in [the southern Iraqi city of] Umm Qasr."

There were more punishing air strikes on Baghdad, Saturday. Smoke and flames were seen pouring out of government buildings include President Saddam Hussein's Old Palace complex on the banks of the Tigris River.

Iraqi officials said the bombing had resulted in numerous civilian casualties, but General Franks says the air strikes are focused exclusively on military targets. "The munitions used in fact were all precision munitions and there were no targets selected that were not precisely appropriate to what the plan calls for," he said.

U.S. officials also showed video shot by American pilots attacking various Iraqi targets including a naval patrol boat. This is U.S. Army General Vince Brooks. "This is a patrol boat being attacked from the air and in a moment you will see the secondary explosion, completing its destruction," he said.

British forces secured key port facilities in Umm Qasr in southern Iraq. British spokesman Group Captain Al Lockwood says engineers will now prepare for ships loaded with food and medicine to help Iraqi civilians. "We will need to make sure that the channels are free from mines so that we can start the flow of international humanitarian food and medical aid through the port to the people of southern Iraq," he said.

In a further indication of widening conflict, U.S. forces launched air strikes along the Iraq-Iran border on positions of the militant Islamic group Ansar al-Islam. That group is suspected of ties to al-Qaida and a Kurdish official in the area says there were many casualties.

U.S. officials are also looking into reports that American missiles intended for Iraq may have landed in Iran.

President Bush says disarming Iraq and rebuilding the country after war could take longer than some people expect. In his weekly radio address, the president said the only way to limit the duration of the war is to apply decisive force. "This will not be a campaign of half measures," said President Bush. "It is a fight for the security of our nation and the peace of the world and we will accept not outcome but victory."

The president is meeting with his top military and national security advisors at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

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