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Baghdad Hit by More Explosions - 2003-03-26

There have been more air strikes and more earth-shaking explosions in the Iraqi capital Baghdad and Kirkuk in the north, as battles between Iraqi and coalition forces continue around the country.

Thunderous explosions were heard echoing across Baghdad Wednesday night, hours after coalition forces briefly knocked Iraqi state television off the air. U.S. troops backed by several hundred tanks and vehicles remain parked on the outskirts of the city, held back by an unrelenting sandstorm which could be giving missile strikes on the Iraqi capital time to weaken Saddam Hussein's hold on power before the expected ground attack on Baghdad begins. Meanwhile, about 1,000 U.S. paratroopers are now reported to have landed in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq.

In the south, reports from Iraq's second largest city of Basra say U.S. and British aircraft were attacking a long convoy of Iraqi tanks and vehicles pouring out of the city, ahead of orders to send in troops and humanitarian aid. There have been multiple reports of Iraqi troops in Basra attacking local Shiite civilians who British military spokeswoman Emma Thomas say were involved in what appeared to be an uprising against Iraqi rule.

"We don't know exactly what's going on there," he said. "All we can say is we would look forward to watching it develop and would encourage it if at all possible. But obviously we are still on the outskirts of Basra."

Journalists with American troops near the town of Nassirya report U.S. forces coming under constant attack and sniper fire Wednesday. This, after what is being described as one of the fiercest land battles of the war so far, between U.S. forces and Iraqi fighters near the town of Najaf.

"The seventh calvary was engaged by irregular forces firing rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank weapons," said General Stanley McChrystal, at the Pentagon. "In the middle of bad conditions, our forces responded by destroying more than 30 enemy vehicles and killing enemy personnel in the hundreds."

Without offering a lot of specifics, the military is insisting that despite reports that allied forces have shifted the focus of the war to deal with rear-guard attacks from Iraqi fighters in towns and cities in the south, the campaign to topple Saddam Hussein is going as planned.

But Iraq says at least 15 civilians were killed Wednesday when a missile struck a Baghdad neighborhood. At the Pentagon, General McChrystal is not ruling out the possibility that an errant U.S. missiles may be to blame, but is denying U.S. forces deliberately targeted the area.

"We know for a fact that something landed in the Shaab district but we don't know for a fact whether it was U.S. or Iraqi. We do know that we did not target anything in the vicinity of the Shaab district.

The Pentagon says coalition aircraft did however, used precision-guided bombs to target Iraqi surface to surface missiles and launchers in Baghdad which it says were placed close to a civilian residential area.