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US Units Attack Iraqi Republican Guard Forces Near Baghdad - 2003-04-02

Commanders of the coalition seeking to depose the Iraqi government say their forces are fighting elite Republican Guards on several fronts near Baghdad. The offensives come as special forces rescue an American prisoner of war from a hospital in central Iraq.

The deputy operations commander, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, said two American units Wednesday attacked Iraq's Republican Guard forces that are defending the outskirts of Baghdad. "The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force attacked the Baghdad Division near al-Kut and has crossed the Tigris River. The Baghdad division has been destroyed," he said.

General Brooks said the Fifth Corps attacked forces of Iraq's Medina and Nebuchadnezzar divisions near Karbala along the Euphrates River. The general added that coalition forces have crossed the so-called red line, a conceptual ring about 60 kilometers outside Baghdad.

General Brooks added that coalition forces in the central city of Najaf have come under fire from paramilitary forces that took refuge in the Ali Mosque, one of Shiite Islam's holiest sites.

"We can fire back. We chose not to fire back, and that's a very important distinction. The regime is firing from within a mosque, something that doesn't have military value, that should be protected by them. It's protected by us," General Brooks said.

In addition, coalition special forces Tuesday night rescued an American prisoner of war, Private Jessica Lynch, from a hospital near Nasiriyah. The special forces also recovered the remains of 11 bodies at the facility. General Brooks said these are being studied to determine if they are coalition casualties.

Private Lynch was captured last week when her supply convoy was ambushed. A dozen soldiers have been listed as missing in the area since then.

General Brooks also indicated that coalition troops have completed their investigation of a missile attack one week ago on a market in Baghdad that Iraqi officials claim killed 15 people. He said investigators have reviewed the missiles used by coalition forces that day and the type of damage inflicted in the attack.

"There's absolutely nothing that joins that to coalition action," he said.

Despite the recent successes by coalition forces, General Brooks warned against overconfidence. "There's a lot of fighting that still has to occur out there. There is fighting that is ongoing. We have the situation under control. Our forces remain very effective, as we anticipated they would be. So we're not meeting surprises, but we are having fights," General Brooks explained.

Iraqi officials have denied the coalition successes, saying their forces have shot down several coalition aircraft and inflicted heavy casualties on land troops in central Iraq.