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US Suffers First Significant Casualties of Iraq War - 2003-03-24

The United States has suffered its first significant casualties since the start of the war to topple the Iraqi government. Perhaps as many as ten American Marines were reported killed and another 12 Americans soldiers are listed as missing, believed to have been taken hostage or killed by Iraqi forces in what one American general calls a tough day of fighting for the coalition.

U.S. soldiers were shown being interrogated on Iraqi television Sunday, being asked to give their names and hometowns. At the request of the Pentagon, American television networks initially held back from broadcasting the disturbing pictures, but they were shown on the Arab al-Jazeera network.

Earlier, U.S. Marines and soldiers were reported killed or missing after a confrontation with Iraqi forces around the town of Nassiriya, which straddles the Euphrates River on the road to Baghdad.

U.S. lieutenant General John Abizaid says a U.S. army supply convoy came under ambush by irregular Iraqi forces in some of the sharpest clashes of the war so far.

"We are definitely missing 12 army soldiers that are unaccounted for. Some of whom I believe ended up on Baghdad television," he said.

Also broadcast on Iraqi television are what U.S. defense officials say appear to be pictures of several dead American soldiers in an Iraqi morgue, some with wounds to the head. Officials indicated this may mean they were executed, rather than killed in combat.

In a brief appearance before reporters Sunday, President Bush demanded Iraq adhere to Geneva Convention covering the treatment of war prisoners, which he says the United States is doing regarding Iraqi POWs.

"The POWs I expect to be treated humanely," he said. "Just like we're treating the prisoners that we have captured humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals," he said.

With the U.S. Army's 3rd infantry division now reported to be within a day's march of Baghdad, the president said Saddam Hussein is gradually losing control of his country. But as the bombing of Baghdad continued and front lines move closer to the Iraqi capital, coalition commanders are waiting to see if President Saddam Hussein's better equipped and trained Republican Guard units will put up a fight or surrender as thousands of Iraqi conscripts already have.

Appearing on three television news shows Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it is only a matter of time before all of Iraq comes under allied control.

"The military forces at some point, fearful of Saddam Hussein and his clique, at some point their fear of him will be much less than their fear of us and those will begin to surrender and how it will happen and how long it will take and when it will tip, I don't know, nobody knows," he said. "But what is certain is that Saddam Hussein is through and that there will be a different government in that country."

As more and more of Iraq falls into coalition hands, President Bush announced that massive amounts of humanitarian aid should begin heading toward liberated areas of southern Iraq within the next 36 hours.