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US Army Forces Battle Iraqi Paramilitaries - 2003-03-29

U.S. Army ground forces, poised about 80 kilometers south of Baghdad, are still battling Iraqi paramilitary fighters trying to slow down their advance. At least one unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division has been attacked by determined Iraqi fighters every night for the past week.

Task Force 269 Armor has been near the central Iraqi town of Kifl for the past week. Its job is to protect a road bridge.

Kifl lies about 16 kilometers north of Najaf, on the east side of the Euphrates River. The U.S. Army wants to keep the town's bridge intact, in case its tanks and heavy armored vehicles need to cross it during its advance on Baghdad.

But holding the bridge has been no easy task. Soldiers in Task Force 269 Armor say ever since they arrived in town, they have come under frequent night-time attacks by militiamen fanatically loyal to Saddam Hussein.

An officer in the unit, Major Jon Segars, says the unit has been mortared several times and ambushed in various ways. He says he believes the fighters are die-hard members of Fedayeen Saddam. Roughly translated from Arabic, the name means "those who sacrifice themselves for Saddam." "What we had yesterday was a guy driving a truck, coming from the north out of Al-Hillah into Al-Kifl, " said Major Segars. "We shot him with a 120 mm HEAT [High Energy Anti-Tank] round, which is a high explosive round and hit the truck, which is the normal procedure for trucks. Instead of killing him, he barreled out of the truck. We continued to shoot him with the machine gun as he came towards the tank. What was amazing was he took many hits from a 7.62 mm machine gun and kept coming until we basically had to cut his head off with the machine gun to get him to stop."

The Fedayeen Saddam have emerged in recent years as the most sinister force in Iraq. It operates independently of the military and has developed a reputation for brutality notable even among the Iraqi internal security forces.

U.S. military commanders in the field say they have been surprised by the stiff resistance and the fanaticism of Fedayeen attacks. But the Department of Defense insists Iraqi paramilitary groups are not a major impediment to the ultimate goal of reaching Baghdad and toppling Saddam Hussein.