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Coalition Troops Continue to Press Toward Baghdad - 2003-03-25

U.S.-led forces continue to press their advance toward Baghdad, battling Iraqi Republican Guard troops as well as fierce sandstorms in central Iraq. In Washington, President George W. Bush said there is no doubt about the outcome of the war.

U.S. and British warplanes pounded Republican Guard positions on the outskirts of Baghdad Tuesday as coalition forces tried to soften up Iraqi resistance to the south and west of the capital.

U.S.-led forces have moved to within 90 kilometers of Baghdad. U.S. Air Force General Victor Renuart told reporters in Qatar that coalition troops are battling the weather as well as various elements of the Iraqi army and militia.

"Our land forces continue to progress northward," he said. "We have had a few engagements over the past 24 hours in the vicinity of Nasiriyah and Basra and, as you know, have suffered some casualties. But we have also inflicted more [casualties] on the enemy and destroyed a number of their tanks, artillery pieces and troops formations. The bottom line is we are on track and will deal with these irregular and regular forces wherever we find them."

In Washington, President Bush went to the Pentagon for a war briefing by senior U.S. military officials. He says coalition forces are making "a steady advance" and "good progress".

"We cannot know the duration of this war, yet we know its outcome. We will prevail," the president predicted. "The Iraqi regime will be disarmed, the Iraqi regime will be ended, the Iraqi people will be free and our world will be more secure and peaceful."

The president is asking Congress for nearly $75 billion in emergency funds to help pay for the war and rebuilding afterward.

On the battlefield, the sandstorms in central Iraq are making the push northward difficult.

"It's hard. I mean, like he said, sand gets in your eyes, it is hard to breathe, you know," said Private Steven Herbstreith, who is with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division in central Iraq. "We are pushing through it. That is what we get paid to do. That is why we are here."

The head of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, says the toughest battles still lie ahead as coalition forces prepare to face off against Republican Guard units near Baghdad.

"I think the U.S. Army wants to send a clear message to the rest of the Republican Guard forces out there that if we can neutralize one of these divisions, the others will get the message that maybe they should lay down their arms and not fight," said VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu, with U.S. forces in central Iraq as they prepare for a fierce battle with the Republican Guard.

As coalition forces get closer to Baghdad, there are growing fears that the Iraqi regime could order chemical attacks in a last-ditch effort to stop the advance.

U.S. Army Major Daniel Goodale-Porter says battle planners believe the chemical attacks could come once coalition forces draw to within about 50 kilometers of Baghdad.

"The 'Red Line' is a physical line that we draw on the map that we think Saddam Hussein and his folks are going to feel pressured enough to actually use weapons of mass destruction," he said.

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair told a news conference that the war is progressing as planned and that Iraqi resistance will eventually crumble.

"But nobody, least of all the forces loyal to Saddam, should be in any doubt that the resistance will be broken down and that the goals of the coalition forces will be met," he said.

In southern Iraq, several thousand U.S. Marines crossed the Euphrates River after intense fighting near the town of Nasiriya.

Further south, British military officials declared the city of Basra a military target after Iraqi forces took up positions among civilians.

The commander of British forces in the Persian Gulf, Air Marshal Brian Burridge, says his troops have encountered stiff resistance from militias loyal to Saddam Hussein.

"These are bunches of determined men who will fight hard because they have no future in the new Iraq," he said.

British forces want to secure Basra for the delivery of badly needed humanitarian aid.

Diplomats at the United Nations will discuss restarting the Iraqi oil-for-food program in New York Tuesday.

U.S. military officials in Qatar say they are building camps for Iraqi prisoners of war and that Red Cross officials will have full access to them. They also called on the Iraqi military to do the same for American prisoners of war.

Surrendering Iraqi troops "looked very tired, very worn out," said VOA-TV's Deborah Block, traveling with U.S. Marine units in southern Iraq. "And I could tell by the way they were grouped that they were most likely soldiers who had given up."

Finally, in Baghdad Tuesday, Iraq's vice president denounced Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo for not taking a tougher stance against the U.S.-led invasion.