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Coalition Warplanes Target Communications Facilities,  Republican Guard Units in Baghdad - 2003-03-28

The Iraqi capital of Baghdad came under heavy bombardment Friday with coalition warplanes targeting communications facilities and Republican Guard units poised to defend the city from a ground attack.

The Baghdad bombing was among the heaviest of the war. Two so-called "bunker buster" bombs, each weighing more than 2,000 kilograms, were dropped on a communications tower. Other coalition aircraft went after positions held by Iraq's elite Republican Guard units.

Iraq says the latest attack killed 30 civilians in a Baghdad marketplace but there has been no independent verification of the claim.

Coalition warplanes also pounded Iraqi positions in northern Iraq.

In the south, British military officials say Iraqi units fired on hundreds of civilians trying to flee the besieged city of Basra.

"As they left, they were followed by paramilitary forces who opened fire on the civilians," said Group Captain Al Lockwood. "Fortunately, Black Watch [British forces] observed what was happening, moved forward, placing themselves between the civilians and the paramilitaries, and have engaged the paramilitaries."

More ground fighting was also reported near the central Iraqi city of Nasiriya as U.S. Marines engaged in firefights with Iraqi troops and paramilitaries.

"American tanks and infantry, artillery and reconnaissance vehicles were shooting all around the area where I was at, at Iraqi soldiers and their vehicles and artillery," said VOA TV's Deborah Block is watching the fighting north of Nasiriya. "And I also did see a number of U.S. planes drop large bombs on the area where the Iraqi soldiers were thought to be located."

The top U.S. Army commander in Iraq says the ground campaign is taking longer than anticipated because of stiffer than expected resistance from Iraqi forces and overextended supply lines. General William Wallace told The New York Times and The Washington Post newspapers that the Iraqi forces are tougher than the coalition troops had prepared for.

However, a U.S. military spokesman at central command headquarters in Qatar denies the assertion that coalition forces underestimated Iraqi resistance.

Brigadier General Vince Brooks said U.S. and British troops are able to adjust to any change in Iraqi defense tactics.

"We know that we have to be tactically patient, as we describe it, that circumstances have to be developed by design and that our enemy always has a vote [an impact] in how the circumstances go," said General Brooks. "And I am certain that there was no underestimation in that regard. It was taken into account and remains to this day taken into account."

In Washington, President Bush told a group of war veterans that U.S.- led forces are making steady progress and that the outcome of the conflict is not in doubt:

"Every Iraqi atrocity has confirmed the justice and the urgency of our cause. Against this enemy, we will accept no outcome except complete victory," said the president.

Also in Washington, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld accused Syria of allowing the shipment of military supplies, including night vision goggles, to Iraq. He said the United States considers the shipments a "hostile act."

The likelihood of a longer-than expected ground campaign is settling in among coalition forces in the field. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu, who is with U.S. Army troops in central Iraq, said: "There are still a couple of big battles to be fought and I think most troops understand that it is something that they will have to do for the long haul. In fact, I asked one soldier, when does he expect to go home, and he says, 'Well, if I make it before Christmas that will be a bonus.'"

There was some good news on the relief front Friday. The first supply ship bringing food and water arrived in the southern port of Umm Qasr after coalition forces were finally able to remove mines from the waters in and around the port.

And at the United Nations Friday, the Security Council unanimously approved a resolution to restart the U.N. oil-for-food program. The program, which was suspended before the start of the conflict, has been providing food for about 60 percent of the Iraqi population.