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Baghdad Comes Under Stepped Up Air Strikes - 2003-03-28

Some of the heaviest allied air attacks in days rocked the Iraqi capital Baghdad Thursday night, with one of Saddam Hussein's compounds and other command and control centers said to be among the targets. As the war against Iraq heads into its second week, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are preparing their public for the possibility of a longer conflict than anticipated, while vowing the allies will fight for as long as it takes to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

The war is moving into its second week with Baghdad coming under stepped up allied air strikes and with a new front opening in northern Iraq after one of the largest combat parachute drops since the second world war put about 1,000 American troops on the ground there.

But fierce resistance by Iraqi units and so-called Fedayeen paramilitaries continues at strategic sites around the country. VOA's Deborah Block, who is traveling with U.S. Marines in Central Iraq, said "the resistance by the Iraqi army has been more fierce than what the Marines encountered while crossing the Kuwaiti border a week ago. This may be partly due to the fact that U.S. troops appear to be coming in contact more often with the Iraqi Republican Guard."

It's an indication of the kind of fighting coalition troops could face when they move on Baghdad, said to be defended by Saddam Hussein's best trained and most loyal fighters, the Republican Guards.

"Very likely that will be some of the toughest fighting that will occur," said U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. At a Senate hearing Thursday, Mr. Rumsfeld warned the battle for Baghdad could take some time, and that allied air strikes will continue in order to soften up Republican Guard targets before ground forces attempt to take the city. "It will require the coalition forces moving through some Republican Guard units and destroying them or capturing them before you will see the crumbling of the regime," he said.

Iraq's defense minister is warning coalition troops will face tough street by street fighting if they invade Baghdad, saying he thinks war could go on for months.

After discussions Thursday about war and post war strategy, President Bush and visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for the United Nations to resume Iraq's oil for food program. A vote is expected Friday. But with tens of thousands of additional American troops now headed for Iraq, both leaders refused to say whether the war could be won in a matter of days or weeks.

"Saddam Hussein will be removed no matter how long it takes," said Mr. Bush. "We will carry on until the job is done," added Mr. Blair. "But there is absolutely no point in my view of trying to set a time limit or speculate on it because it's not set by time. It's set by the nature of the job."

Three days before the war started, Vice President Dick Cheney told an American television audience he believed coalition troops would be treated by Iraqis as liberators. But battles have continued well behind allied frontlines, including for a 5th day in the town of Nasiriya, where as many as 25 Marines were reported wounded and at least 11 others were said to be missing Thursday.

In central Iraq, VOA'S Alishya Ryu, who is traveling with Army's 3rd Infantry Division, reports Iraqis being interrogated by allied troops tell of Republican Guard and pro-Saddam Fedayeen fighters carrying out revenge attacks on them. "From what we're told, they are murdering some of the families in front of civilians," she said. "No one's been able to go into those towns and there are no eyewitnesses to it. This is purely from the prisoners of war and fleeing refugees that have been detained by U.S. forces, but that is the latest reporting coming out."

A Pentagon official says many as 50,000 more U.S. troops are on their way to Iraq. Most of them would come from the U.S. Army's heavily mechanized 4th Infantry Division based at Fort Hood, Texas.