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Coalition Forces Take Iraqi Port City of Umm Qasr - 2003-03-22

Coalition officials in Qatar say they have taken the major port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq, and this will allow ships to begin unloading humanitarian aid in the coming days. The announcement follows a night of heavy bombing of selected targets in Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities.

British military spokesman Flight-Lieutenant Peter Darling said the port of Umm Qasr is important, if a refugee crisis is to be avoided in Iraq. "It's the furthest deep-water port up into Iraq. That's why it's so important. So, once that is sorted out, then we can start getting some serious vessels in there with humanitarian stores on board for the Iraqi people," he said.

The British official said ships could begin docking in three days, once the waters have been cleared of any mines or obstructions.

In addition, a spokesman said, two British helicopters collided in mid-air over Gulf waters before dawn Saturday. Coalition forces are searching for the seven missing crewmembers.

The developments follow a night of intense bombing during which, officials say, 1,000 missiles struck in and around Baghdad.