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Iraq: Bombs Fall In Baghdad As Fighting Intensifies

Baghdad/Washington, 24 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Baghdad was bombed off and on early this morning a day after the U.S. military said coalition troops had faced the toughest resistance yet from Iraqi forces. Meanwhile, RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz, travelling with U.S. troops, reports that U.S. forces have fired mortar rounds on Iraqi bunker positions this morning outside the southern Iraqi city of As-Samawah along the Basra-Baghdad highway.

Yesterday, the U.S. military said allied forces faced stiff resistance at An Nasiriyah, Najaf, Basra, and Umm Qasr after rolling largely unopposed to within 160 kilometers of the capital, Baghdad. At Central Command Headquarters in Doha, Qatar, U.S. Army Lieutenant General John Abizaid said a fake surrender set off a "very sharp engagement" around the southern Iraqi city of An Nasiriyah, a crossing point over the Euphrates River.

"Suffice it to say that it was a very sharp engagement [An Nasiriyah], but the marines were successful, they defeated the enemy, the first reports indicated they destroyed eight tanks some antiaircraft batteries that were in the region and also some artillery, along with a number of infantry," Abizaid said.

Iraqi television showed five U.S. soldiers it said were captured near An Nasiriyah, as well as numerous bodies said to be dead U.S. soldiers.

The U.S. military said "less than 10" U.S. soldiers had been killed, and another 12 were missing as a result of fighting at An Nasiriyah.

U.S. President George W. Bush warned Iraqis they would be punished for war crimes if they mistreated prisoners. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the video Iraqi propaganda and said it violated the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of prisoners of war. Amnesty International called on the Iraqis not to ill-treat the Americans and called on the media to respect the dignity of captives of both sides of the conflict. Surrendered and captured Iraqi troops have also been show in news broadcasts.

In other news, unnamed Pentagon officials said U.S. troops had seized a chemical plant near the city of Najaf, about 160 kilometers south of Baghdad. They said a captured Iraqi general, and other Iraqi prisoners were being questioned on chemical weapons and "are providing information."