Southern front: Umm Qasr occupied, strong Iraqi resistance near Nassiriya
U.S. Marines, after a night of heavy shelling, moved in Friday to seize a strategic port on the Kuwait border as fierce fighting continued in the southern Iraq.
The Marines captured at least 200 prisoners after attacking the port in Umm Qasr, located some 470 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, early Friday, a U.S. military official said. They were still meeting pockets of Iraqi resistance.
"We've taken most of the port," the official said, according to AP. "We're not done securing it at this time." Jets attacked one position to the west of Umm Qasr.
The Marines launched the ground attack on Umm Qasr following a night of intense shelling by U.S. and British forces.
Marines taking control of the main highway leading to the key port city of Basra, the heart of Iraq's southern oil facilities, ran into mortar fire.
U.S. forces took the border town of Safwan. Iraq's forces appear to have pulled back to Basra. "Iraq officers have split and run right back to Basra," said Capt. Joe Tlenzler, a spokesman for the 1st Marine Division.
At one point, reporters with a U.S. troops in southern Iraq saw Marines sweeping Iraqi soldiers from around a burning pumping station as thick black smoke billowed hundreds of feet into the air. One Iraqi soldier was shot and killed by American forces as he tried to escape on a motorcycle.
Meanwhile, resistance from Iraqi troops halted U.S. forces advancing through southern Iraq on Friday near Nassiriya, a main crossing point over the Euphrates river.
Reuters correspondent, travelling with elements of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, said officers told him there was fighting near the city and they expected soon "to go and join the battle". The reporter saw U.S. troops return fire with two rockets.
Nassiriya is a main crossing point over the Euphrates some 375 km southeast of the capital Baghdad.
British Major General Albert Whitely, deputy commander of the U.S.-British land forces, told Reuters on Friday that crossing the Euphrates was the next big challenge for allied troops in their drive towards the Iraqi capital.
In another development, a Kuwait defense official said coalition Patriot missiles had shot down an Iraqi missile in northwestern Kuwait on Friday.
Air raid sirens sounded in Kuwait City at around 1005 GMT, but the all-clear was sounded shortly afterward. (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)