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War in Iraq Facing New Challenges - 2003-03-31

U.S. and British air raids are targeting Iraqi Republican Guard troops entrenched around the capital.

VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu near the frontlines says senior U.S. officers say the current fighting is not the start of a major assault on Baghdad.

“This is not the main thrust of the attacks. This is what is known as sort of 'probing' attacks to see what the strength of the Republican Guards there is.”

Meanwhile, coalition forces continue attacks against Iraqi military positions. There was a new round of bombing in Baghdad and heavy ground fighting south of the Iraqi capital.

Explosions were reported at the Iraqi information ministry and a presidential palace, as large fires were seen throughout the city.

U.S. and Iraqi forces are reported to be fighting 80 kilometers south of Baghdad… one of the closest encounters to the Iraqi capital since the war began.

The ongoing clashes with Iraqi troops have slowed progress along the 240-kilometer supply lines stretching from Kuwait.

“It’s pretty frustrating because we came down we were going to be moving pretty quick all of a sudden we are stopped so we are pretty much guessing what is going on.”

South of Baghdad, U.S. military officials say about 100 Iraqi paramilitary fighters were killed. Coalition soldiers captured 50 other Iraqi soldiers in battles Sunday.

At a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq's Foreign Minister Naji Sabri warned coalition forces they will be destroyed.

"And what I can tell you now that we are going to turn our desert into a big graveyard for American and British soldiers."

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has again appeared on Iraqi TV, this time with his sons. However there was no independent confirmation of when the broadcast was taped.

Back on the front lines, military officials say at least 60 U.S. and British soldiers have been killed since the war began.

VOA-TV’s Deborah Block, with a U.S. marine artillery unit in Iraq, says the marines are undeterred and want to push forward.

“Their spirits are still high. They seem to be highly motivated."

And in northern Iraq intense coalition bombing continues, while on the ground U.S. troops and Kurdish fighters have dug in to new positions.

Jalal Talabani (jah-LAHL tah-lah-BAH-nee), secretary-general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), emphasized that his forces will work with American troops and predicted, that they would take the fight all the way to Baghdad.