|Wednesday, 2 April 2003|
Civilians killed as suicide bomb fears rise
BAGHDAD, Tuesday (Reuters) - US Marines killed an unarmed Iraqi at a checkpoint south of Baghdad on Tuesday, just hours after seven women and children died in a similar shooting, providing new fuel for Arab fury over the war.
Marines said they opened fire on a pickup truck that sped towards them at a checkpoint outside the southern town of Shatra, killing the driver and wounding his passenger.
The truck was not loaded and neither of the men was armed, Marines told Reuters correspondent Sean Maguire at the scene.
"I thought it was a suicide bomb," said one of the Marines who opened fire. Troops have been on edge after a checkpoint suicide car bomb attack on Saturday killed four U.S. soldiers.
On Monday, U.S. troops opened fire on a car which failed to stop at a checkpoint in the desert near the city of Najaf, only to find it was full of Iraqi women and children. U.S. Central Command in Qatar said seven of the 13 women and children in the car were killed and two wounded. A Washington Post correspondent near the scene said 10 people were killed.
Blasts shook the southern outskirts of Baghdad early on the 13th day of the U.S. and British war to topple President Saddam Hussein. Air raids have been pounding areas on the edges of the city where elite Republican Guard units are thought to be dug in ready to face U.S. troops advancing from the south.
Reuters correspondents with U.S. military units said U.S. troops fought Iraqi soldiers firing from buildings and foxholes on Monday around a bridge over the Euphrates river at Hindiya, just 80 km (50 miles) from Baghdad - the closest to the capital that ground fighting has been reported.
U.S. troops have also advanced to the outskirts of Hilla, about 100 km (60 miles) south of Baghdad.
Iraq reported fierce fighting in and around the city of Nassiriya, 375 km (235 miles) southeast of Baghdad, and said invading troops suffered heavy casualties. "The blood of the enemy is flowing profusely," a military spokesman said on Iraqi state television.
"God bless your hands. Victory will be yours. God is by your side."
The seven women and children killed at the checkpoint near Najaf, 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad, were the first civilian deaths from U.S. gunfire confirmed by Central Command since the war began on March 20 - although Iraq has said scores of civilians in and around Baghdad have died in missile attacks.
Marine Corps General Peter Pace, vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said the soldiers who shot at the car "absolutely did the right thing", because they thought their lives were threatened.
The United States says it cannot confirm its weapons were responsible for blasts in civilian areas of Baghdad that have killed scores of people. Central Command is investigating but says errant Iraqi surface-to-air missiles may be to blame.
Pictures of injured and dead civilians - broadcast across the Muslim world by Arabic satellite channels - have fuelled opposition to the war and sparked angry protests.
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister called for an end to the war and urged Saddam to step down to spare Iraq more bloodshed.
"If his staying in power (is) the only thing that brings problems to his country, we expect that he would respond to a sacrifice for his country, as he requires any citizen there to ... sacrifice for his country," Prince Saud al-Faisal told ABC News in an interview.
"This war can only lead to strife, to bloodshed and to increased hatred." Overnight air strikes on Baghdad hit a sprawling compound on the banks of the River Tigris used by Saddam and his powerful son Qusay. Smoke could be seen billowing from the complex.
Another explosion came from the headquarters of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, headed by Saddam's eldest son Uday, causing a huge fire that sent flames rising into the night sky.
The raids followed attacks on Monday which hit the Information Ministry and at least two telephone exchanges.
Washington presents its invasion as a war to liberate the country, oust Saddam and rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. Iraq denies having such weapons.
President George W. Bush had a message for Iraqis in a speech which he made in Philadelphia. "We are coming with a mighty force to end the rule of your oppressors ... We will not stop, we will not relent until your country is free," he said.
There are at least 100,000 U.S. and British troops in Iraq.
However, General Richard Myers, head of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there was no rush to storm Baghdad. "We'll be patient," he said in Washington.
The United States had hoped to avoid street fighting in Baghdad that could cause high military and civilian casualties, but may have no choice but to storm the city. One senior Central Command official said the military was ready for heavy casualties.
"We're prepared to pay a very high price because we are not going to do anything other than ensure that this regime goes away," the official said. "If that means there will be a lot of casualties, then there will be a lot of casualties."
The Pentagon said the United States had fired 700 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 8,000 precision-guided munitions at Iraqi targets since the war began, 3,000 in the past three days. It flew 1,000 air sorties in the past 24 hours alone.
Iraq has said nearly 600 Iraqi civilians have been killed and over 4,500 wounded. It has not listed military casualties.
Produced by Lake House