Volume 96, Issue 93
Wednesday, March 26, 2003

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Civilian and military casualties rising in Iraq

AP - American infantry troops fought off an attack by Iraqis in the desert yesterday, inflicting heavy casualties in a clash less than 160 kilometres from Baghdad.

Defence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said between 150 and 500 Iraqis were killed in the ground battle near Najaf, adding there were no immediate reports of American casualties.

American officials issued fresh cautions, as well, concerning the possible use of chemical weapons by Iraqi troops, although no such weapons have been found by the invading forces.

American and British officials have also warned the public to prepare for a longer campaign, and predicted difficult days to come.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and others have warned of a possible humanitarian crisis in the Iraqi city of Basra, home to 1.3 million residents. The International Red Cross said during the day that it had begun repairs at a war-damaged water-pumping station serving the city.

Thus far into the campaign, Americans said they had taken more than 3,500 Iraqis prisoner. There was no accurate death toll among Iraqi troops or civilians.

American losses ran to 20 dead and 14 captured or missing. The remains of the first two to die were flown overnight to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

A total of 20 British troops had also died, including two killed Monday by friendly fire.

The Iraqi government reported 194 civilians dead yesterday; a Web site that compiles western news reports said between 199 and 278 were reported dead.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it has counted 14 dead and 110 injured since Sunday in air strikes on Baghdad.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people protested the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq yesterday, as the Middle East witnessed its largest demonstration since the attack began last week in the Syrian city of Damascus.

As protesters burned U.S. and British flags in Damascus, the Syrian government denounced the invasion as "unjustified aggression and a blatant violation of international laws."

In the Libyan capital of Tripoli, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators chanted anti-American slogans as they marched to the Iraqi Embassy. Libyan authorities reinforced security around the Kuwaiti, Saudi, British and United Nations diplomatic offices ahead of the march.

In Lebanon, more than 10,000 people, mainly from leftist parties and supporters of the militant Hezbollah group, demonstrated under rain outside the UN House in downtown Beirut.

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