Monday, March 24
Battle for Baghdad begins
By Neil Tweedie at Camp al-Sayliyah, Qatar, and Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent,, (Filed: 25/03/2003)

The battle for Baghdad began in earnest yesterday with heavy air attacks on Republican Guard divisions barring the southern approaches to the city. SAS and US special forces forward air controllers directed an unremitting series of aerial attacks.

Heavy raids by B52 bombers were followed by low-level attacks by American A10 Thunderbolt tankbusters and British and US Harrier aircraft to soften up Saddam Hussein's most loyal and best-equipped formations.

Several squadrons of American Apache helicopters trying to attack Republican Guard positions south-west of the capital on Sunday night were forced back by anti-aircraft artillery fire.

One Apache crashed. The Iraqis claimed it was shot down by a farmer with a hunting rifle. US officials said the crash was almost certainly due to mechanical failure. Iraqi television later showed two Americans it believed to be the crew. They appeared to be in good health.

Although allied forces were attacked by Fedayeen paramilitaries across the country, Gen Tommy Franks, the coalition commander, said that progress had been "rapid and in some cases dramatic".[...]

Saddam delivered a televised rallying call to his "brave and heroic people" in an apparent attempt to scotch suggestions that he had been badly wounded on the first night of the war.

He read a roll call of honour naming commanders and their locations, including the port of Umm Qasr, the scene of dogged resistance. But allied officials suggested that the broadcast could have been pre-recorded.

Saddam did not mention the fighting raging at Karbala, only 50 miles south-west of the capital. Tony Blair told MPs: "It is a little way from there that [allied troops] will encounter the Medina division of the Republican Guard who are defending the route to Baghdad. This will be a crucial moment."

Three of the six Republican Guard divisions protect Baghdad: the Medina in the west, the Baghdad in the south and the Alnedaa in the east. The bombardment was concentrated against the Medina division, while leaflets and radio broadcasts warned the others that they would be next.. [...]
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