Troops two-thirds of way to Baghdad

Iraqi forces trying to slow advance are battered

War in Iraq

March 24, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WITH THE 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION, in Central Iraq The Armys 3rd Infantry Division plunged deep into Iraq yesterday, skirmishing with Iraqi army and militia forces along the Euphrates River as they neared the outer ring of Baghdads defenses.

Backed by unfettered airstrikes and long-range artillery, the divisions lead units crossed the long, jagged escarpment north of Najaf by midday and battered overwhelmed Iraqi troops who tried to slow the advance from rudimentary sand- bagged positions at the crest.

The escarpment rises west of the Euphrates to a broad, flat plain of scrub desert, which was peppered yesterday afternoon with the smoking wreckage of Iraqi anti-aircraft weapons and artillery batteries struck by Air Force A-10 ground attack aircraft. Col. William F. Grimsley, the commander of the divisions 1st Brigade, said that more than 30 Iraqi weapons had been destroyed, including three tanks.

Security restrictions imposed by American commanders prevent the reporting of precise locations of American forces.

But by yesterday evening, three days after first crossing the Iraqi border to the west of attacking Marine and British forces, the 3rd Infantry Division had advanced roughly two- thirds of the way to Baghdad, where commanders expect to encounter strong resistance from Republican Guard divisions that are better equipped and considered more loyal to President Saddam Hussein than regular army units.

No doubt, they know were coming for sure now, said Maj. Morris T. Goins, the 1st Brigades operations officer.

The divisions advance has swept American forces past the cities of An Nasiriyah, Samawah and now Najaf.

Those cities, the principal ones along the Euphrates River, have not fallen so much as simply been passed by.

As the 1st Brigade pressed northward, more than 200 Iraqis surrendered, including a colonel, who surrendered at an ammunition plant.

The 1st Brigade of the Third Infantry suffered two minor casualties yesterday, officers said.

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