Volume 96, Issue 92
Tuesday, March 25, 2003

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Troops approach Baghdad, Saddam assures victory

(CP) – American and British troops pushed within 100 kilometres of Baghdad yesterday, but left pockets of fierce resistance, uncontested Iraqi forces and a looming humanitarian crisis in their wake.

There was no sign of Iraqi resistance slowing down, as the war reached its fifth day.

President George W. Bush is due to meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week to plot strategy in the war.

Blair will arrive Wednesday and the two leaders will go to Bush's presidential retreat at Camp David to continue their talks Thursday, a diplomatic source said.

"The vital goal is to reach Baghdad as swiftly as possible, thus bringing the end of the regime closer," Blair told the House of Commons on Monday.

But the strategy appears risky, not only for the militaries involved, but for the civilian population left behind. Humanitarian aid remained stalled outside Iraq's borders because of the ongoing instability in the countryside.

American forces were bypassing many Iraqi defenders in the race for Baghdad, while elsewhere the British were forced to withdraw from Basra – Iraq's second-largest city – to regroup.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein appeared on television and assured Iraqis "victory will be ours soon."

"These are your days, you Iraqis are in line with what God has ordered you to do, to cut their throats and even their fingers," he said.

Pentagon officials did not release casualty numbers Monday, one day after more than 20 Americans were killed or captured in a number of firefights that military officials called "the sharpest engagements of the war."

Monday brought new setbacks amidst the rapid advance.

A U.S. Apache helicopter was downed and Iraqi television footage suggested the two pilots had been captured alive.

A British soldier died after being shot, reportedly by Iraqi civilians, during a riot near the town of Az Zubayr, south of Basra.

And a U.S. missile hit a Syrian passenger bus near the Iraqi border, killing five and injuring 10, Syria's official news agency reported.

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2002 THE GAZETTE