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Iraq: U.S. Troops Advance Toward Baghdad

Washington, 2 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. military says coalition forces today advanced within 50 kilometers of Baghdad in a major two-pronged ground offensive south of the capital. U.S. military officials said the army's 3rd Infantry Division and the U.S. 1st Marine Expeditionary Force seized two strategic bridges over Iraq's main rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, south of Baghdad.

Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf called the reports of a coalition breakthrough near Baghdad "illusions."

U.S. Major General Stanley McChrystal said that after today's battles, two of Iraq's six Republican Guard divisions -- the Medina and Baghdad -- are, as he put it, no longer credible forces.

McChrystal said coalition forces are nearing Baghdad, but "tough fighting" lies ahead. "We are now engaging the [Iraqi] Republican Guard divisions defending the outskirts of Baghdad and the regular forces throughout the south supporting the Iraqi regime. We've moved to within 30 miles [about 50 km] of Baghdad, but there remains tough fighting ahead," he said.

There were reports today of another round of intensive coalition bombings on Baghdad.

Also today, Iraqi state television showed footage of President Saddam Hussein chairing a meeting which it said paid tribute to what it called "the heroic resistance" of Iraqi fighters. It was unclear when the meeting had been taped.

Earlier today, al-Sahhaf read a statement attributed to Hussein, which warned a Kurdish leader not to side with U.S. troops.