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Iraq: Entire Division Surrenders To U.S. Forces Near Basra


Washington, 22 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Pentagon says an entire division of the Iraqi Army has surrendered to U.S. and British forces in southern Iraq. U.S. military officials say the 51st Infantry Division of the Iraqi Army gave up yesterday to allied forces that were moving toward Iraq's second-largest city, Basra.

The U.S. Defense Department says the division includes about 8,000 soldiers and about 200 tanks. It is not part of Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard, but it is considered to be better-equipped and better-trained than most other forces in the regular Iraqi Army.

Many Iraqi soldiers gave up yesterday in southern Iraq, and the desert region has been littered with abandoned Iraqi tanks and weapons. But the Pentagon says the 51st Infantry Division was the largest single unit to surrender.

U.S. and British forces continued their aerial bombardment of Iraq this morning, focusing on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz -- travelling with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division -- reports heavy fighting in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah along the Euphrates River.

"There has been heavy fighting between U.S. infantry troops and Iraqi soldiers, who have been surrounded in a perimeter area near the Euphrates River. The Iraqi soldiers have been refusing to surrender despite repeated demands from the U.S. soldiers," Synovitz reported.

Yesterday evening, British and American fighter jets struck the Iraqi capital Baghdad again, hitting government buildings. U.S. planes were also reported to have hit military targets in the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. U.S. marines captured the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr while other troops seized desert airfields southwest of Baghdad. British marines also launched an amphibious and aerial assault and secured oil installations at the head of the Persian Gulf.

In Washington, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said hundreds of targets would be hit in Iraq in the next 24 hours. He also said U.S. and British forces should secure oil fields in southern Iraq.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Iraqi leadership is in disarray and its grip on the country was crumbling.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has said his country will send troops into northern Iraq in order to prevent an influx of refugees across its borders. Speaking at a press conference in Ankara yesterday evening, Gul said Turkey's armed forces will also enter the Iraqi Kurdish enclave to prevent what he termed "terrorist activity." Gul said Turkey has no designs on Iraqi soil.

Early this morning, Western news agenciesquoted unnamed Turkish defense officials as saying Turkey moved at least 1,000 troops into northern Iraq yesterday. U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld warned Ankara that it would be "unhelpful" if large numbers of Turkish troops moved into the area.

Also yesterday, Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said his country had opened its airspace to U.S. warplanes for raids on neighboring Iraq in line with an earlier parliamentary decision.

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