Fighting in Iraq continued in several locations Wednesday as U.S. warplanes again hit Baghdad and American ground troops fought a fierce engagement in central Iraq.
Iraq says two U.S. missiles struck a residential area north of Baghdad known as the Al-Shaab district, killing at least 14 people. U.S. defense officials denied they targeted the area. However, U.S. officials also issued a statement that said coalition aircraft did target nine Iraqi missile sites located near a different residential area of the capital.
The bombing in Baghdad knocked Iraqi television off the air for a time.
U.S. cruise missiles also targeted Iraqi government communications and satellite links at several locations in and around the capital. In addition, coalition aircraft launched new bombing raids on targets in northern Iraq.
Earlier, U.S. officials reported hundreds of Iraqi troops killed in a fierce firefight with American troops near the town of Najaf, more than 100 kilometers south of Baghdad.
U.S. military officials say coalition forces will try to clear out resistance from Iraqi militias who continue to fire at troops heading through southern and central Iraq before starting the major assault on Baghdad.
"The practices that have been conducted by these paramilitaries and by these others who are out there, sometimes in uniform, sometimes not in uniform, are more akin to the behaviors of global terrorists than they are to a nation" said U.S. Army General Vince Brooks, who briefed reporters at the U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar.
General Brooks also says U.S. Marines found 3,000 chemical protective suits at a hospital in Nasiriya, raising concerns that Iraqi troops might be preparing to use chemical weapons to stop the advance on Baghdad.
Sandstorms continue to be a problem for coalition ground and air forces. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu is with U.S. Army troops in central Iraq. "Of course, the weather is still hampering air operations," she said. "The helicopters are still grounded for the most part this morning. The winds have picked up again and they are creating quite a visibility hazard. The visibility is quite low."
There was some encouraging news on humanitarian assistance Wednesday. The first sizable relief convoy rolled into the port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq loaded with food and water.
But even as local residents welcomed the aid shipment, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf continued to insist in Baghdad that coalition forces do not control Umm Qasr. "And they tried to give the impression, deliberately, that they are in control of Umm Qasr and that is not true," he said.
Coalition forces are anxious to get relief supplies into the southern city of Basra, but the security situation there remains uncertain.