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Iraq Claims US-Led Forces Being Allowed to Approach Baghdad Uncontested - 2003-03-23

A senior Iraqi official claims Baghdad is deliberately allowing coalition forces to move toward the capital.

Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan told reporters that coalition forces are being allowed to move uncontested north toward the Iraqi capital. Once they approach Baghdad, he siad, they will face certain defeat.

Mr. Ramadan said fierce Iraqi resistance was being waged in the southern port city of Umm Qasr, where coalition forces engaged in firefights Sunday with Iraqi troops.

Iraq's information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, said 77 civilians were killed and another 366 wounded Saturday in the southern city of Basra by what he called cluster bombs. He accused coalition forces of targeting civilian locations.

Iraq also claimed Sunday to have shot down seven coalition aircraft, five fighter planes and two helicopters. An official also promised that captured American soldiers would soon be shown on Iraqi television. U.S. military officials say there are no reported missing soldiers and no American planes have been lost to hostile fire.