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 Thursday, March 27, 2003

 


DAY SEVEN



AL-JAZEERA has a website in English at http://english.aljazeera.net/


Link to a mysterious Iraqi weblogger who calls himself Salam Pax, writing from the heart of Baghdad at http://dearraed.blogspot.com


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Civilian Casualty Update


LATEST The proposal to transfer control of the oil-for-food program to the United Nations secretary-general has so far stalled over differences in the Security Council rooted in the opposition to the U.S.-led move to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.Diplomats say that permanent Security Council members Russia, France and China, which oppose the war, object to a resolution that would authorize UN coordination with U.S. and British forces in Iraq. They believe this would signal that the military action was legitimate.

Al Jazeera television on Wednesday broadcast video of two dead soldiers and two prisoners of war, all said to be British. The video showed bloodied bodies in uniform, lying on their backs on a road. The two prisoners were shown briefly, looking sombre and uneasy, but there was no audio. The Arabic-language television network, monitored in Dubai, said it obtained the video following fighting at Zubayr, near the southern Iraqi city of Basra, over the past two days. It did not say who supplied the video.

United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan has expressed deep concern over casualties in Iraq. "I must say I am getting increasingly concerned by the humanitarian casualties in this conflict," he said. "We just had the report that a missile struck a market in Baghdad and I want to remind all belligerents they have to respect the international humanitarian laws and take all necessary steps to protect civilians. "Besides they are responsible for the welfare of the civilian population in the area," he said.

An eyewitness told today of the heaviest battle of the war so far which left 750 Iraqis dead. Sean Naylor of the American Army Times quoted a US soldier describing the fighting as so intense that "it looks like Apocalypse Now". Naylor also described the destruction of American tanks, rocket-propelled grenade assaults and deadly air strikes called in on the Iraqi attackers. The battle came when a US armoured column of the 7th Cavalry was caught in a deadly ambush by hundreds of Iraqi soldiers on the road to Baghdad at Najaf. Although first reports suggested there were no American dead, intelligence sources in Washington said it was feared the Allies may have taken "heavy casualties". US Abrams tanks were hit by Iraqi missiles fired from tripods mounted on the back of pick-up trucks. Tanks exchanged fire on both sides and vicious close-quarters skirmishes continued even after the Iraqis took heavy losses.

For the first time since the U.S.-led war against Iraq began last week, the divided U.N. Security Council called an open meeting where any of the 191 U.N. member states can express their views on the military campaign to oust Saddam Hussein.Arab and non-aligned nations demanding an end to war in Iraq and the immediate withdrawal of the invasion force asked for Wednesday's council meeting, which is likely to continue on Thursday and attract at least 50 speakers.It was not clear whether the 22-member Arab Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, which represents about 115 mainly developing countries, would introduce a resolution demanding a halt to the fighting and withdrawal of all foreign forces.

At least 15 scorched corpses littered a Baghdad street on Wednesday after enraged residents said two U.S. missiles slammed into a poor district during intensified air raids on the city.Reuters correspondents counted at least 15 bodies lying in the street in Baghdad's Shaab district, amid blackened and mangled cars and rubble from broken buildings. "There are at least 13 killed and some 30 injured. Two missiles hit the street," local civil defense official Haneed Dulaimi told Reuters. Yelling residents pulled a man with a bloody head from the rubble.U.S. and British spokesmen said they had no immediate information on the explosions. If the missile strike is confirmed, it will be a major setback for British and U.S. efforts to reduce public opposition to the wear by minimizing civilian casualties. Air raids began at dawn on the seventh day of the war and rumbled on sporadically through the daylight hours.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said Wednesday Iraqi forces still control Umm Qasr, refuting allied claims they seized the city. He also accused them of using internationally-prohibited cluster bombs in shelling Baghdad and other areas.Al-Sahhaf told reporters in Baghdad that crew members of 12 coalition armored personnel carriers and tanks were killed, one warplane and a predator drone were shot down, at least three other tanks were also destroyed.On Iraq he said 13 people were killed and 537 others wounded by the U.S.-British shelling, mostly because of their usage of cluster bombs.

Nasiriya spans the Euphrates River in southern Iraq. American commanders had hoped for different scenes in Iraqi towns, which, at least in the south, had been widely expected to welcome the allied invasion. American bombs, dropped on the city this morning after the Sunday fighting, may have killed as many as 10 Iraqi civilians and injured as many as 200. "No Iraqi will support what the Americans are doing here," said a Nasiriya resident named Nawaf. "I saw how the Americans bombed our civilians with my own eyes," Mustafa Muhammad Ali, a medical assistant at the Saddam Hospital in Nasiriya.said. He added that he had no love for the Iraqi president, but said that the American failure to discriminate between enemy fighters and Iraqi civilians had turned him decisively against the invasion.

The leader of the biggest Iraqi opposition group said Tuesday that Iraqis would fight any U.S. domination after Saddam Hussein is toppled."Coalition forces are welcome in Iraq as long as they help the Iraqi people get rid of Saddam's dictatorship, but Iraqis will resist if they seek to occupy or colonize our country," said Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Tehran-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.Such resistance, the Shiite leader told a news conference in Tehran, would include "the use of force and arms."

An Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim opposition group said on Wednesday there had been disturbances, but no uprising, in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.A spokesman for the Tehran-based Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) said there were "some disturbances" in Basra. Asked if this amounted to an uprising, the spokesman, Abu Islam, said: "No, there is no uprising."

The reluctance of a majority of the Shia population to rise up and welcome the United States and British troops besieging Basra, Iraq's second largest city and the soft under belly of Saddam Hussein's regime, is turning out to be one of the biggest conundrums of the current campaign.

The Human Rights Watch on Tuesday castigated both the Iraqi and American governments for violations of the Geneva Convention with regard to display of prisoners of war.The Iraqi government has already been criticised widely for its telecast of pictures of US POWs and dead coalition soldiers. HRW also alleged that this was not the first time that Secretary Rumsfeld had been unresponsive to concerns that the United States may be acting in violation of the Geneva Convention. The rights body had previously criticised the US government for its treatment of captured persons during the war in Afghanistan, particularly the failure to determine the legal status of those held in Guantanamo Bay.

Switzerland has refused a US request to expel Iraqi diplomats and order the closure of Iraq's embassy here, the Swiss foreign ministry said on Wednesday

A large contingent of Iraq's elite Republican Guard headed south in a 1,000-vehicle convoy Wednesday toward U.S. Marines in central Iraq — an area that already has seen the heaviest fighting of the war. The advance appeared to signal that the Republican Guard, Saddam Hussein's best trained and most loyal force, was still prepared to take the offensive despite days of allied air strikes and missile attacks on its positions.

Coalition airstrikes hit targets in and around Baghdad today as U.S. ground troops engaged Iraqi Republican Guard units in central Iraq in the biggest battle of the war so far.

Japan Wednesday rejected a U.S. request to close the Iraqi Embassy in Tokyo, saying it was important to maintain diplomatic channels with Baghdad."There is no need to close the embassy," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said. "It is up to Japan to make its own decision" on the issue.

The Dominican Republic's Foreign Minister Hugo Tolentino Dipp resigned in protest against the government's support of US-led military action in Iraq, an official in the ministry confirmed Wednesday.Tolentino sent a letter to President Hipolito Mejia to announce his resignation, according to the official, who asked not to be identified.

As U.S. and British forces bear down on Baghdad, international peace observers report that far from "shock and awe", Iraqi civilians feel bewildered and confused."People just ask why? They stress the point that they are not criminals and never wanted to attack the United States. It doesn't make logical sense to them," said Kathy Kelly, head of a group of activists who have been in Baghdad since October. Speaking to Reuters by telephone, she said ordinary Iraqi's were struggling to understand Washington's talk of liberating Iraq, given the "viciousness" of the strikes, now in their seventh day.

EARLY HOPES that the thunderous power and shock effect of the bomb and missile attacks might topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein have given way to more sober predictions of a longer-term war. Despite the air assault, mass surrenders of Iraqi troops have not occurred, and some military chain of command still appears to be functioning.Military officials involved in the air campaign said one of their biggest surprises has been the lack of any challenge from Iraq’s air force. Since the start of the fighting, not a single Iraqi aircraft has taken to the skies, the officials said.Officials declined to provide estimates of Iraqi casualties or the extent of damage done to Republican Guard troops so far, except to say that U.S. and British planes have destroyed a substantial number of tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery pieces.
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OTHER CRISES


Both Pakistan and India say they have carried out test-launches of short-range, nuclear-capable missiles on Wednesday. The Indian defence ministry first said it had concluded a successful launch of its Prithvi surface-to-surface missile from the Chandipur test site in eastern Orissa state. Shortly afterwards the Pakistani foreign ministry said it had test-fired an Abdali missile. Pakistan said it had informed India about its launch but that it was taken by surprise by the Indian test-firing.

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