The U.S. drive to Baghdad continued Wednesday with success on all fronts. Some American commanders worried only that it was too easy and that the enemy could be closer to using chemical weapons.
Southwest of Baghdad, U.S. troops smashed through the Karbala Gap, crossing the Euphrates River about 25 miles south of the capital. Near Kut, southeast of Baghdad, Marines seized a bridge over the Tigris River, another key step.
"Baghdad is now cut off from Iraq's other large population centers," Maj. David Holahan said.
In Samawah, 200 miles south of Baghdad, U.S. troops were attacking Iraqi paramilitary forces from the south, west and east. Helicopter gunships were going after the militias when they fled toward the capital. The Americans wanted to oust hostile forces from Samawah so that supplies could flow through the city, saving hours to the front lines.
In Mosul, in northern Iraq, American jets pounded enemy positions a day after a band of 400 Kurdish guerrillas killed 33 Iraqis with the cooperation—but not the direct help—of the U.S. Central Command. One Kurdish fighter was killed.
CASUALTIES TO DATE
U.S. military: 49 dead.
British military: 27 dead.
Iraqi forces: Unavailable.
In Kabul, Afghanistan, Westerners received warnings about a greater danger of attacks against them. In addition to anger over the war in Iraq, the Taliban's fugitive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, recently called for a holy war against U.S. troops and their Afghan allies.
In Ankara, Turkey, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Turkey had agreed to let supplies go through its territory en route to coalition forces in Iraq. When Powell arrived at the prime minister's office, several Turkish journalists lined up and turned their backs to him to protest civilian casualties in Iraq. The journalists also criticized what they called biased work by Western journalists.
In Amman, Jordan, four journalists expelled by Iraqi authorities said they feared for their lives "every second" of the week they were at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, thought to be the site of hundreds of executions of political dissidents in recent years. The journalists, two from New York's Newsday and two free-lancers, conceded they broke Iraqi rules by covering the news after entering the country as tourists. Two journalists working for News Ltd.'s The Australian—reporter Peter Wilson and photographer John Feder—still were being held Wednesday.
The White House criticized the size of airline aid proposals that Congress' appropriations committees added to the president's war budget request. The panels in the House of Representatives and the Senate each approved more than $3 billion for the airline industry, which has lost money because of higher fuel prices, the cost of new government-mandated security measures and a decline in travel during the war. The bills are expected to reach the House and Senate floors this week, with differences to be ironed out in a conference committee next week before being presented to President Bush for his signature.
AROUND THE UNITED STATES
In Palestine, W.Va., residents of the small farming community celebrated the rescue of one of their own, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, 19, from an Iraqi hospital. U.S. forces found her there after she was wounded March 23 in an ambush of her unit in Nasiriyah.
A Lynch cousin, Pam Nicolais, described the reaction of friends and family: "You would not believe the joys, cries, bawling, hugging, screaming, carrying on."
WEATHER IN BAGHDAD
Thursday: Partly cloudy
High temperature: 90
Low temperature: 66
"Next thing I knew I was airborne. I was playing Superman for 15 or 20 seconds."
_Marine Gunnery Sgt. Bill Hale, describing what happened when an explosion injured him during the fierce battle of Nasiriyah.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.