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Iraq: Latest Baghdad Air Strikes Target Iraqi TV

Prague, 26 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Iraqi capital Baghdad came under attack once again this morning from coalition air strikes.

The dawn raids in the capital targeted state-run television and other government communications sites. Raids continued into the late morning in the southern parts of the city.

Explosions were also heard on the outskirts of the city, as U.S. warplanes returned to attack positions believed to be held by elite Republican Guards.

The renewed raids in and around Baghdad came after sandstorms that had slowed the coalition's operations eased.

The Iraqi satellite channel went blank after the raids, but the domestic channel was on air again this morning three hours after the raid.

U.S. defense officials said the television raid was aimed at eliminating Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's ability to communicate with the Iraqi people and troops.

Also today, U.S. forces are reported to be facing resistance in their push north from the southern city of Nasiriya. U.S. Marines fought their way through the city yesterday in order to cross the Euphrates River.

And officials have also been giving details of the heaviest ground fighting yet in the seven-day-old war.

An Army officer with the 3rd Infantry Division, Major John Altman, told AFP that some 650 Iraqis had been killed near the central city of Najaf in the past day. This is higher than the Pentagon's earlier estimate of between 150 and 300 dead. There were no reports of American casualties.

But U.S. officials warned yesterday that the toughest battles of the war still lie ahead. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "Iraqi authorities know their days are numbered and, while the Iraqi regime is on the way out, it is important to know that it can still be brutal, particularly in the moments before it finally succumbs. This campaign could well grow more dangerous in the coming days and weeks, as coalition forces close in on Baghdad and the regime is faced with its certain death."

But if the regime's leaders are worried that their time is running out, they're not showing it yet. Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf read a statement from Hussein on Iraqi television last night. It was addressed to Iraqi tribesmen. "As we have witnessed from the actions of our brave armed and civilian forces, if you inflict damage on the enemy, no matter how small, they will flee. So aim all of your guns at this cowardly enemy. Attack the enemy when they least expect it. Be creative, be it day or night. Hit their fronts and their rears so their advance will stop. Use new methods when fighting and attack them when they least expect it. Fight them and hurt them wherever they may be. Your days are days of great victory, awaited not only by Iraqis but by all good people all over the world," al-Sahhaf said.

There were also conflicting reports of an uprising in the city of Basra. British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said there were signs a popular revolt was under way, adding that "we know there have been attempts by militia to attack their own people" as reprisal. But Iraq denied it, and Al-Jazeera, one of the few international networks with a correspondent in Basra, said today the streets of the city are calm. British forces surrounding the city bombed and destroyed the ruling Ba'ath Party's offices overnight.

Later today, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is scheduled to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush near Washington. Some media have dubbed the meeting "a war council." But Blair is expected also to press the case for a strong United Nations role in Iraq if and when Hussein is toppled. He told parliament yesterday: "It is important that whatever administration takes over in Iraq, that that has the authority of the UN behind it. I mean that is going to be important, as I say, for the coalition forces, for the Iraqi people, for the international community."

Also today, Britain named its latest friendly-fire victims, two soldiers killed when another British tank mistakenly fired on them on 24 March. Twenty-two British troops are now listed as dead or missing since the war started -- only two of whom have been killed in combat.