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U.S.-British Invasion Pushes Deeper Into Iraq

Prague, 21 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The ground campaign against Iraq is unfolding today with U.S. and British forces pushing deep into the country. It follows a second night of aerial bombardment of Baghdad and heavy artillery strikes on Iraqi positions across the Iraq-Kuwaiti border.

It also comes as coalition forces suffered their first casualties since the war began yesterday. A military transport helicopter crashed in Kuwait early this morning, killing some 12 British and U.S. soldiers on board. A spokesman for British forces in the Gulf, Group Captain Al Lockwood, said the crash was an accident and was not caused by enemy fire.

Spearheading one thrust of the ground invasion is a huge convoy of tanks and assault vehicles with the U.S. Third Infantry Division. Reports say they have encountered little or no resistance so far.

RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz, who is traveling with them, said: "The Iraqis that I've seen have been only the Bedouin Iraqis here. Many of them are following the instructions that they've been given in this incident, which is to stay inside of their homes, stay inside of their tents, keep their arms down, don't wave their arms and look like they may be brandishing a weapon of some kind. However we've seen both women and men waving greetings and shouting greetings to the U.S. troops. So far we've had no direct contact with any hostile enemy forces. There were a lot of decoys, tanks and armored personnel carriers made out of wood which U.S. troops fired on."

British forces landed overnight on the strategic al-Faw peninsula in southern Iraq and have now secured key oil facilities. They too reported little if any opposition.

But correspondents traveling with the U.S. Marines in another area of southern Iraq were halted 200 meters inside the country by antitank missiles and small arms fire.

There also have been reports of explosions coming from near the southern Iraqi city of Basra and in the northern city of Mosul. And there are unconfirmed reports that several oil wells in the south of the country were set on fire by Iraqi forces.

The war began early yesterday with air strikes aimed at taking out Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his top aides.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last night he still hopes Hussein will be gone before coalition troops are forced to unleash their full might: "The pressure is continuing on the Iraqi regime, and [the regime] will not be there in the period ahead. And we still hope that it is possible that they will not be there without [using] the full force and fury of a war."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke on national television once British troops went into action.

Blair said the main aim of the military mission is to remove Hussein from power and to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction -- which, Blair said, are putting the whole world in danger: "All nations are targets. Bali was never in a frontline of action against terrorism. America didn't attack Al-Qaeda; they attacked America. Britain has never been a nation to hide at the back and even if we were, it wouldn't avail us."

Iraq's ambassador to the UN, Muhammed al-Douri, said the invasion is a violation of international law: "[The U.S.-British coalition] has now entered into a new stage of crossing into the Iraqi border and it intends to invade Iraq. This is a clear violation of the UN charter. It is up to the Security Council to stand up to its responsibility and stand up to this aggression and to find a peaceful resolution to this problem."

Iraqi television said four Iraqi soldiers were killed and five others were wounded during U.S. strikes on Baghdad. The International Red Cross said one person was killed and 14 others injured in the first raids.