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Military action

The largest ground offensive of the war began Tuesday.

Southwest of Baghdad, U.S. forces began efforts to control the Karbala Gap. A success there—which would require a defeat of the elite Republican Guard—would leave coalition troops just 30 miles from the capital. Because the gap is so crucial, Army commanders fear that the enemy is more likely than ever to use chemical weapons.

Southeast of Baghdad, Marines moving toward Kut forced Iraqi units to withdraw. Civilians encountered along the way welcomed the U.S. soldiers with friendly waves.

In Basra in southern Iraq, British forces are using guerrilla-style tactics to capture leaders of irregular Iraqi forces. In one instance, the British put together a 25-man unit to creep into a militia leader's compound and snatch him. After taking him away, they destroyed the buildings with artillery.

In northern Iraq, there were signs of weakening by Saddam's soldiers. Infantrymen and anti-aircraft gunners abandoned a key position above a highway in Kalak, east of Mosul. The highway connects Mosul, the nation's third-largest city, and Baghdad.

In Halabja, near the border with Iran, a U.S. special forces commander said coalition specialists had evidence that a militant group was creating chemical weapons in the mountains. An assault last week by U.S. troops and Kurdish rebels rooted out hundreds of suspected terrorists. Fifteen years ago, Halabja was subject to a massive chemical attack believed ordered by Saddam Hussein against his own city.

In Shuaiba Port in Kuwait, coalition ships arrived with hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles and missile launchers in the first major delivery of fresh materiel. As many as 30 ships are expected in the next month. Each should be unloaded in 12 to 18 hours, four times the usual pace.

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Casualties to date

U.S. military: 48 dead.

British military: 26 dead.

Iraqi forces: Unavailable.

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Elsewhere overseas

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the foreign minister said Saddam should consider relinquishing his position for the good of his people. Saud al Faisal said Iraq's leader should take his own advice and "sacrifice for his people." The Saudi government supports neither Saddam nor the U.S.-led war. One other Arab nation, the United Arab Emirates, also has asked Saddam to step down.

In London, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw—assuming that the coalition will prevail in Iraq—called for a U.N.-sponsored conference after the war to choose Iraq's new leaders. He cited the conference in Koenigswater, Germany, in which Hamid Karzai was nominated to lead a new government in Afghanistan. Great Britain has been pushing President Bush to seek U.N. involvement in postwar Iraq.

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In Washington

The House of Representatives and Senate appropriations committees approved packages of nearly $80 billion to begin paying for the war and other security needs. The House committee added $3.2 billion to help the struggling airline industry, which has had to pay for increased security required by the government.

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Media

Four journalists and a peace activist missing since March 25 left Iraq safely after being released from a Baghdad prison where they were held for a week, editors said.

Newsday reporter Matt McAllester and photographer Moises Saman contacted their editors Tuesday to say they had crossed into Jordan. They were accompanied by freelance photographers Molly Bingham of Louisville, Ky., and Johan Rydeng Spanner of Denmark, and activist Philip Latasha.

The five had been in the Abu Ghraib prison since March 25, according to Charlotte Hall, the managing editor of the Long Island-based newspaper.

Iraqi security guards went to McAllester's Baghdad hotel room early that day and confiscated computers, notebooks, mobile phones and tape recorders. The five were then taken to the prison. They were not physically harmed and received basic food, Hall said.

The journalists told their editors that they were asked if they worked for the CIA and the Pentagon, but were given no explanation for their detention or release.

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Weather in Baghdad

Wednesday

Sunny

High temperature: 82

Low temperature: 61

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Quote

"What kind of people run right into a weapon, knowing I'm going to do the right thing and blow them away?"

_ Army Col. Arnold Bray, on enemy troops who are brazenly, and sometimes individually, attacking U.S. positions

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For complete coverage of the war in Iraq, go to the Web site of the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau (www.krwashington.com).

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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