Saturday, March 22
Coalition consolidates Iraq advance
BBC News, Saturday, 22 March, 2003, 22:19 GMT
US and UK forces have captured key areas of southern Iraq as they advance on the capital Baghdad.
The US military says the vanguard of the coalition force is now beyond the city of Nasiriya, after taking control of two key crossing points on the Euphrates river and the nearby airfield of Tallill.
Iraqi TV reported fighting with US troops on Saturday evening near the town of Najaf, 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of Baghdad.
The southern oilfields, including those around the city of Basra, are said to have been secured and a three-mile-long convoy of US Marines has moved out of the area to join the forward advance.
A fourth consecutive night of coalition air raids on Baghdad has begun and much of the city has been plunged into darkness. [...]
At his first news conference since the war began, General Tommy Franks said special forces operating behind enemy lines had played a key role in the initial stages of the operation, particularly in preventing the Iraqis from sabotaging southern oil installations.
However, at least nine oil wells are said to have been set on fire by fleeing Iraqi forces.
And despite coalition claims that up to 2,000 Iraqi soldiers have surrendered, American and British troops in and around both Basra and Nasiriya have continued to meet stiff resistance in some areas.
US war plans suffered a setback as the Pentagon finally abandoned hope of persuading Turkey to allow troops through to open a northern front in northern Iraq. [...]