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 Saturday, March 22, 2003



Civilian Casualty Update

Latest Air raid sirens and explosions have been heard through Baghdad a few hours after a squadron of American B-52 bombers flew from an air base in Britain.Heavy anti-aircraft fire was reported, but it is unclear whether there is an attack in the form of bombs being dropped from aircraft or cruise missiles.It is the third air raid alert in Baghdad since the war began on Thursday.

U.S. Marines took full control of the strategic port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq. The takeover came after overnight shelling in the area. "Umm Qasr has been overwhelmed by the U.S. Marines and now is in coalition hands," Adm. Michael Boyce, chief of the British defense staff, said in London.

Intelligence sources now say there were eyewitnesses at the scene where Saddam Hussein's complex was bombed on the first night, ABC reported Friday morning. John McWethy, ABC's national security correspondent, said on air: "Those eyewitnesses say that they saw Saddam Hussein being taken from the wreckage on a hospital gurney, that he had an oxygen mask over his face. In addition, intelligence sources say that there is a lack of communication between Saddam Hussein's office and his main commands and the rest of his government. "They are interpreting that as meaning that there is some problem with his health. So they are optimistic that something has happened to the leader of Iraq, but they are still extremely cautious about what his condition is."

CNN said Friday that its reporters have been expelled from Baghdad by the Iraqi government.The news network had two reporters, Nic Robertson and Rym Brahimi, who had remained in the Iraqi capital after most other American news networks had sent their correspondents out for safety reasons.

U.S. special forces may have secured the Kirkuk oil fields in northern Iraq, the BBC said on Friday, quoting unnamed intelligence sources. "The oil fields of Kirkuk which are the busiest in Iraq may have been already secured by American special forces," correspondent John Simpson told BBC World television from the region's front line.

Eight British and four US servicemen died today when their helicopter crashed in the Kuwaiti desert. They were the first coalition casualties of the war in Iraq. The servicemen were on board a US Marine CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter as part of the invading force of allied troops involved in seizing oilfields on the al Faw peninsula

Russia and other countries will ask the United Nations to rule whether the US-led war on Iraq is legal, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says."With other states, we will put this question before the UN's legal department. It is very important that these arguments (about the legality of US actions) are confirmed," he told the lower house of Parliament."This is the only way that we can use them as a strong weapon."

A U.S. Marine died in action, becoming the first allied combat casualty of the Iraq war, as American forces pushed through the Iraqi desert and ripped down street portraits of Saddam Hussein in occupied territory. The soldier was from the U.S. 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Lt. Col. Neal Peckham Military officials said the Marine died in the advance on the Rumeila oil field.

American forces seized important airfields in western Iraq and a U.S. Marine became the first combat death while fighting for control of a southern oil field. The airfields known as H-2 and H-3 in far western Iraq were taken without much resistance from Iraqi troops, defense officials said on condition of anonymity. But they called control of the installations "tentative." They are important partly because Saddam Hussein is believed to have Scud missiles there.

Iraqi top officials confirmed Friday that the U.S. missile strikes on Baghdad hit the house of President Saddam Hussein whose famAl-Sahhaf confirmed that Umm-Qasar was "still in the hands of the Iraqis" and said "they claimed to have entered 200 miles inside Iraq. This is wrong." "They distributed a tape showing they were in a desert ... but where is this desert?" he said.He refuted claims of "strong resistance in Umm-Qasar but there is nothing in Umm-Qasar" and "nothing is also happening in the south" where U.S. and British forces reported big explosions.Al-Sahhaf also confirmed that Iraqi forces shot down two U.S. helicopters and described as silly U.S. claims that one helicopter crashed and the other was destroyed to prevent being captured by the Iraqis.On firing Scud missiles into Kuwait, he said Iraqis feel no enmity towards the Kuwaiti people but lashed out at their rulers "who are conspiring against Iraq and made Kuwait a base to attack it."He said the Scud missiles that were fired Thursday hit U.S. and other military targets in Kuwait.

There are reports 250 Iraqi soldiers have been taken prisoner by US Marines under British command as they advanced to the strategic port of Umm Qasr.

Retreating Iraqi soldiers have torched up to 30 oil refineries in southern Iraq Friday, according to British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon. "Most of the oil infrastructure on the peninsula have been secured intact," he said. "I can confirm however that the Iraqi regime has set fire to a number of oil wells, our latest information is up to 30 oil wells are alight amongst hundreds in southern Iraq.

Turkey has delayed opening its airspace to US aircraft because of disagreements over its military role in northern Iraq. The Turkish parliament gave consent for the overflights on Thursday, but overnight talks between US and Turkish officials failed to resolve key issues

This is not the war we had been led to expect by the military briefings - it is a much more gradual assault. The original plan has been significantly revised. The full-scale aerial assault against military targets throughout Iraq and against Iraqi units in the field has been delayed

A second wave of air attacks tonight against the strategic heart of the capital. The precision-guided bombs and missiles made at least two direct hits on a large, domed edifice beside the Tigris River. The building, possibly the Planning Ministry, exploded in a fireball and a series of secondary explosions that lighted the night sky. The smoke was so dense that it enveloped a huge, brooding building built like an ancient tomb, with vast slab sides leaning inward, that is said to be the office and home of Tariq Aziz, the No. 4 man in Mr. Hussein's hierarchy.



French President Jacques Chirac, a staunch opponent of war in Iraq, said on Friday the United Nations must be at the center of efforts to rebuild the country whatever the outcome of the conflict.He ruled out any retroactive U.N. blessing for the U.S.-led war to oust President Saddam Hussein or any resolution that gave Washington and London post-war administrative control in Iraq. "This idea of a resolution seems to me to be a way of authorizing military intervention after the event, and so is not, in my point of view, fitting in the current situation," Chirac told a news conference.British Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier said London wanted two new U.N. resolutions setting up a trust fund to use Iraqi oil wealth to rebuild the country and creating a post-Saddam administration."France would not accept a resolution which authorizes military intervention and gives the United States and Britain administrative powers in Iraq," Chirac said.

European Union (EU) divisions over Iraq have widened when three anti-war states called a separate summit on defence integration. Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt announced plans for France, Germany and Belgium to meet next month to discuss integrating their armed forces. The moves plunged the EU back into crisis hours. The defence initiative apparently is designed to isolate Britain, Europe's biggest military power. Mr Verhofstadt told the Belgian news agency, Belga: "In April Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, President Jacques Chirac and I will meet in Brussels to discuss a stronger integration of our respective forces." His Foreign Minister, Louis Michel, said closer defence integration is the only way for Europe to be taken seriously as an entity by the US. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker applauded the initiative, telling reporters: "This is not a closed shop. I expect others would join. It's the logical consequence of the differences of recent weeks."

Traces of ricin found in two small bottles at a Paris railway station this week were too small in size to be lethal, France's interior minister said. The quantities were "non-lethal," The Associated Press quoted Nicolas Sarkozy as telling Europe-1 radio Friday.

A suspected Tamil Tiger rebel boat attacked and sank a vessel carrying Chinese fishermen off eastern Sri Lanka, killing 17 people on board, the navy said Friday. The sunken vessel was carrying 23 Chinese and three Sri Lankans. Nine people were rescued by another Chinese vessel after the attack, navy spokesman Jayantha Perera said. "We believe other than those rescued, the rest have been killed," Perera said.

Following the start of hostilities in Iraq, the United Nations in Afghanistan on Thursday announced a 48-hour precautionary security alert and instructed staff to stay away from places of work for two days. "It was a precaution from our part, hence we requested our people to stay home for a day or two," the UN Secretary General's SpecialRepresentative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, told IRIN in the Afghan capital Kabul

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