"Dead enders" to protect Baghdad until the end
(AP) - Unexpected Iraqi troop movements and blinding sandstorms slowed the progress of United States-British coalition forces in Iraq yesterday, and Iraqi officials said American missiles killed 14 civilians in a residential area of Baghdad.
A column of Iraqi vehicles was reported moving in the direction of U.S. marines who were advancing cautiously toward Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's seat of power, raising the possibility of a major battle south of Baghdad, The Associated Press reported.
The Iraqis were apparently taking advantage of sandstorms that have blunted U.S. air power to reposition forces defending the capital.
Tens of thousands of paramilitary and guerrilla fighters loyal to Saddam pose one of the biggest obstacles to American efforts to quickly topple Iraq's government.
American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has called them ''dead enders,'' Iraqis who would fight to the end. U.S. officials, worried they may have underestimated these fighters, have begun calling them terrorists and war criminals and focusing significant military efforts on wiping them out.
Pentagon officials had expected at least some hard-core Saddam loyalists to resist, but had assumed they would make their stands mostly during the climactic battle for Baghdad. Privately, they acknowledge being startled at the irregulars' tenacity.
By sporadically attacking long U.S. supply lines in southern Iraq, groups like the Fedayeen have forced the United States to pause and redirect some troops to fighting back.
By holing up and resisting in southern cities like Basra, they are also preventing regular Iraqi soldiers from surrendering and delaying crucial humanitarian aid to ordinary Iraqis.
U.S. officials insist they are not hurting the overall war effort, noting for example that U.S. supply lines continue to move.
But Maj.-Gen. Stanley McChrystal said the guerrilla fighters also have a propaganda aim. ''They're trying to get an over-reaction from coalition forces, so that we'll fire on people who are trying to surrender.''
Meanwhile, in Ottawa Prime Minister Jean Chretien said Canada will provide $100 million Cdn in aid to Iraq. And defence officials in Ottawa acknowledged Canadians are aboard U.S. AWAC radar planes helping in the campaign.