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Iraq Deliberately Allowing Advance on Baghdad, says Official - 2003-03-23

Iraq's vice president claims Baghdad is deliberately allowing coalition forces to move toward the capital. The senior official also claims American soldiers have been captured. Iraqi officials also say there were many civilian casualties in bombing raids on the southern city of Basra.

Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan appeared on Iraqi television, saying that captured U.S. soldiers would soon be shown on television. U.S. officials deny any coalition soldiers have been captured by the Iraqis and have shown video of hundreds of Iraqis surrendering.

Mr. Ramadan also said allied troops are moving so quickly in their desert drive north because Iraq is deliberately allowing them to move uncontested to Baghdad. He said the coalition forces would be defeated once they near the capital city.

Iraq's information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, said 77 civilians were killed and 366 injured when, what he called cluster bombs were dropped Saturday on the southern Iraqi city of Basra. Mr. al-Sahaf accused coalition forces of targeting residential areas in Basra. There has been no independent confirmation of his claims.

Although U.S. officials have not reported the loss of any American aircraft in combat, senior Iraqi officials told reporters in Baghdad that Iraq's air defense system has shot down five coalition fighter aircraft and two helicopters.

Iraqi state-run television showed President Saddam Hussein wearing a military uniform and smiling during a meeting with his top advisers. It could not be determined when or where the video of the Iraqi president was recorded.

Earlier, coalition forces bombarded the Iraqi leader's hometown of Tikrit. In Baghdad, new explosions rocked the capital, including a blast in the center of the city and others on its outskirts.

In neighboring Syria, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri warned Turkey, another of its neighbors, against supporting a U.S.-led war against Baghdad.

Turkey is allowing U.S. aircraft to fly through Turkish airspace, but has denied a Washington request to station 62,000 U.S. troops on Turkish soil.