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Coalition Forces Intensify Air Strikes in Bagdad - 2003-04-01

There are many angles on the Iraqi war to report to you, but we begin where we have since operation Iraqi freedom began. With the latest from the military front, here is Brian Purchia

Coalition warplanes have carried out more air strikes against targets in and around Baghdad, as well as positions held by Iraq's elite Republican Guard forces.

Massive explosions rocked the Iraqi capital. A steady series of explosions were also heard south of the city.

Officials now say, since this air war began the U.S. has dropped 8,000 precision guided bombs, 40% of those hit targets in the last three days. Many of these smart bombs have been targeting republican guard troops. On the battlefield U.S. soldiers had their first real contact with Iraq’s elite republican guard soldiers, coalition troops were also engaged in street fighting on their way to the town of Hindiyah, about 80-kilometers south of Baghdad.

However, VOA-TV’s Deborah Block with a forward Marine company says this is not slowing the coalition’s march toward Baghdad.

“Fuel trucks and other vehicles with food and ammunition can be seen regularly on this highway in fact over the past few days this highway is starting to resemble a road during rush hour except all the vehicles are military.”

Iraq's Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf says bombings over the past 24 hours have killed 19 civilians and injured more than 100 others in Baghdad.

“An American warplane attacked two buses on the highway between Baghdad and Amman, attacked two buses, on those two buses were foreign passengers, among them, Americans."

Meanwhile, an investigation is under way into Monday’s shooting deaths of at least seven Iraqi civilians by U.S. soldiers at a military checkpoint near the southern city of Najaf. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks says soldiers first ordered the vehicle to stop and then fired warning shots in the air before shooting at the vehicle.

“There will be occasions where civilians will be put into harms way. We make every effort to warn to try to cause a halt to the potential danger before it escalates beyond a point which it can be controlled.”

U.S. soldiers say they are having a hard time identifying who are Iraqi soldiers and who are civilians.

“Everybody pretty much looks the same you just don’t know…during the daylight they’re friendly with you at the night they’re taking sniper shots at us.”

VOA correspondent, Alisha Ryu, with a marine unit near Baghdad says the incident has to be put in context.

“Those soldiers were very tense and behaving very defensively. On Saturday, there was a car-bombing, a suicide car-bomber, sitting at a checkpoint, detonated a bomb, killing four soldiers. That memory is still very, very fresh in the minds of these soldiers who are manning the checkpoints right now.”

Fighting is continuing in the south around Basra, Iraq's second largest city, where British troops are facing stiff resistance from Iraqi militias. Coalition soldiers are being forced to conduct house to house searches in Basra and other cities to hunt for Iraqi soldier, who are hiding among civilians.