U.S. troops shot their way closer to Baghdad, British forces fought on the fringes of the beleaguered city of Basra, and the first substantial relief convoy embarked Wednesday for
Iraq in a blinding sandstorm.
The U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division drew to within 50 miles of Baghdad, with other American forces expected to join soon in pressuring the capital from several directions. Allied bombardments over the past two days have pounded positions of Iraq's Republican Guard, the elite divisions assigned to defend the city.
En route to Baghdad, units from the 7th Cavalry Regiment fought a fierce running battle Tuesday and Wednesday with Iraqi forces near the central city of An Najaf. According to preliminary reports from American military officials, U.S troops killed up to 500 Iraqi fighters, suffering the loss of two tanks but no casualties.
Hoping to cripple the Iraqi government's communications, the allies attacked the state-run television headquarters in Baghdad before dawn Wednesday with missiles and air strikes. The station's international satellite signal was knocked off the air, but regular broadcasts resumed as scheduled after daybreak.
Far to the south, British forces on the edge of Basra waged artillery battles with more than 1,000 Iraqi militiamen, who reportedly also faced an insurrection by civilians opposed to Saddam Hussein.
A British military spokesman, Group Capt. Al Lockwood, said Wednesday that the uprising became such a threat that the militiamen fired mortars to try to suppress it. Lockwood said British forces then shelled the Iraqi mortar position and also struck the local headquarters of the ruling Baath party.
Maj. Gen. Peter Wall, second in command of British troops, said civilians had taken to the streets in large numbers and were being "less compliant with the regime than they are normally."
"We don't know what has spurred them, we don't know the scale, we don't know the scope of it," he said.
The British - while awaiting an opportune moment to enter the heart of Basra - have been telling residents over loudspeakers that aid is waiting outside the city. Relief officials say many of the 1.3 million residents are drinking contaminated water and face the threat of diarrhea and cholera.
British forces staged a raid on a suburb of Basra, capturing a Baath party leader and killing 20 of his bodyguards, officials said.
The Iraqis denied there was any uprising in Basra. "The situation is stable," Information Minister Mohammed al-Sahhaf told the Arab satellite television station Al-Jazeera.
Assigned to bring aid to another battle-scarred southern city, a seven-truck relief convoy - loaded with food and water - set out from Kuwait early Wednesday, destined for the port of Umm Qasr.
"We planned for 30 trucks but we only got seven loaded because of the severe sandstorm," said E.J. Russell of the Humanitarian Operations Center, a joint U.S.-Kuwaiti agency. The storm cut visibility to about 100 yards.
Plans to bring supplies to Iraqi civilians have been stalled for days because of fighting across southern Iraq. On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the United States is legally responsible for providing relief aid.
U.S. officials have blamed Saddam's regime for slowing the flow of aid by placing mines in Umm Qasr's harbor, which serves much of the south. U.S. Navy helicopters flew two dolphins into Umm Qasr to help locate mines.
At an Army field hospital in Kuwait, a second officer died from wounds suffered when an Army sergeant allegedly tossed three grenades into a command tent of the 101st Airborne Division. Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, based in Boise, Idaho, was pronounced dead Tuesday.
Sgt. Asan Akbar was flown to a military jail in Germany after a judge found probable cause to try him for the crime. Akbar, an American Muslim who told family members he was wary of going to war in Iraq, has not been charged.
Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, of Easton, Pa., was killed and 14 other soldiers were injured in the attack.
The allied strike on Iraqi television and other government communications facilities followed assessments by U.S. officials that Saddam's government had been able to rebuild control of military and security forces around Iraq.
U.S. strategists are operating on the assumption that Saddam is alive even though intelligence on his fate remains inconclusive. Some Bush administration officials say Saddam may have been wounded in an air strike a week ago; others say information about his status is inconclusive.
Anti-war protests continued Wednesday in many countries, including two whose governments support the U.S.-led invasion.
In Sydney, Australia, police made 45 arrests after thousands of protesters, many of them high school students, pelted officers with bottles, chairs and tables grabbed from street-side cafes. It was the most violent protest yet against Australia's decision to send 2,000 troops to the allied coalition.
In Seoul, South Korea, police detained about 30 student protesters who tried to barge into the U.S. Embassy.
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