© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2003
The air war intensified Friday with earth-shattering power, but the ground war bogged down, slowed by the zeal of Iraqi resistance fighters and the mud of northern Iraq.
Coalition forces control more than a third of Iraq's territory and 95 percent of its skies, said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A day after two 4,700-pound "bunker busters" were dropped on Baghdad, more bombs fell on the capital early today. Initial reports spoke of a huge explosion near the headquarters of the Iraqi Ministry of Information in central Baghdad, one of a series of attacks on Iraq's communications network.
Warplanes pounded Republican Guard troops and other targets with more than 1,000 other bombing missions throughout Iraq.
"It's going to be great weather for the next week and God help our enemies," said Col. John Croley of Marietta, Ga., air coordination officer with the U.S. Marines' combat headquarters in southern Iraq.
U.S. officials said the vigorous air campaign was intended to soften Iraqi positions in advance of an attack, as early as this weekend, on a Republican Guard division that stands between coalition troops and Baghdad.
The Guard's Medina division, about 8,000 strong, is thought to be nearby. To the east, the Guard's Baghdad division, also with 8,000 fighters, is attempting to block the Marines' advance.
The U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, with about 16,000 troops, could begin its attack on the Medina Division on Sunday after 36 hours of air attacks, and no later than Monday, U.S. officials said.
American officials also told the Associated Press that Saddam Hussein's troops have been spotted between U.S. and Iraqi lines wearing full chemical protection gear and unloading 50-gallon drums from trucks. The report reinforced concern that American and British troops might face chemical weapons.
Also before dawn today, an Iraqi missile avoided detection before slamming into the sea near a shopping mall in Kuwait City, Kuwaiti officials said. They reported no injuries and little damage.
"It was a low-level missile that apparently went under the radar," said Jasimm al Mansouri, Kuwait City's fire chief.
In anticipation of a push on Baghdad, F/A-18s attacked a Republican Guard fuel depot and missile facility south of the Iraqi capital, officials said. Hornets dropped 500-pound satellite-guided bombs on the fuel facility, while other planes hit the missile site with four, 1000-pound bunker-penetrating bombs.
The 101st Airborne Division raided Republican Guard units south of Baghdad in the first such attack by the division in the war. Two Apache helicopter gunships crashed on their return, but all crew members escaped injury.
The crashes were blamed on "brown-out" conditions, which are caused by clouds of brown desert sand created when a helicopter approaches the ground. That makes it difficult for the pilot to see to ground.
Helicopters from the 2nd Battalion took out four tanks, six armored personnel carriers, 15 vehicles, a fuel site and a communications tower, said executive officer Maj. Randall Haws.
DIWANIYAH: A Marine died and another was wounded in fighting with irregular Iraqi forces at a cement plant.
NASIRIYAH: U.S. Marines and particularly stubborn Iraqi forces engaged in a fierce, daylong battle.
Explosions from tank fire, artillery and rockets fired by Cobra helicopters reverberated through the city of 500,000 as Marines battled to clear the main supply route north to Baghdad.
Four Marines were reported missing Friday and three were reported killed, one in combat and two in an accident.
Marines and Iraqi forces traded tank and artillery fire throughout the day Friday in Nasiriyah. Several buildings, including the power plant, were ablaze.
Nearly 10,000 members of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division joined U.S. positions. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, with 2,500 troops, augmented a 5,000-member Marine task force in the area.
BASRA: A pair of F-15E Strike Eagles destroyed a two-story building where about 200 Iraqi regime paramilitary members were believed to be meeting Friday night, the U.S. Central Command said.
Earlier, militias loyal to the Iraqi regime fired on hundreds of civilians trying to flee Friday, forcing panicked crowds to retreat, British officers said.
Also, Britain said it is investigating a report that a British soldier was killed when a U.S. warplane hit British vehicles in a "friendly fire" incident.
BIYARA: With U.S. Special Forces operating field artillery, calling in airstrikes and supervising a massive infantry charge, 6,000 Kurdish fighters on Friday overwhelmed a band of radical Islamic Kurds in a remote mountain valley in northeastern Iraq.
The early morning assault was launched with a mix of Kurdish fighters and roughly 100 U.S. Special Forces troops, many of whom moved with the Kurdish columns.
HARIR VALLEY: The vanguard of the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade struggled to establish a base camp in the knee-deep muck of muddy fields.
"I trained in the swamps of Florida for two years and I've never seen mud like this," said Capt. Eric Blaus, 30, of Collingswood, N.J.
-- Information from Knight Ridder Newspapers, the Associated Press and the Washington Post was used in this report.