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Coalition Forces Target Iraqi Communications Facilities, Republican Guard - 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 so far. 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.

Coalition warplanes also pounded Iraqi positions in northern Iraq near the town of Mosul.

In the southern city of Basra, many Iraqis have tried to flee the fighting.

Lieutenant Colonel Ronnie McCourt, a British spokesman at Central Command headquarters in Qatar, says Iraqi units fired on hundreds of civilians as they tried to escape the besieged city. "We've also heard, I believe, that Iraqi paramilitaries have fired on the crowd to dissuade them from fleeing and that casualties have been inflicted," he said.

More ground fighting was also reported near the central Iraqi city of Nasiriyah 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, who is watching the fighting north of Nasiriyah. "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 Washington Post newspapers that the Iraqi forces coalition troops are facing are tougher than the ones they 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," he said. "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."

U.S. defense officials say an additional 100,000 coalition troops are on their way to Iraq to bolster the forces already there.

The likelihood of a longer than expected ground campaign is settling in among coalition forces in the field. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu is with U.S. Army troops in central Iraq. "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," she said. "In fact, I asked one soldier, when does he expect to go home, and he said, '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.

Meanwhile, the United Nations is preparing a worldwide appeal to governments for than $2 billion to fund emergency relief assistance for Iraq.