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Coalition forces strike multiple targets, seize suspected terrorist camp

DOHA, Qatar—Allied bombs pummeled Baghdad defenses Sunday as coalition forces seized a suspected terrorist camp in Northern Iraq.

U.S. and British warplanes struck fuel depots, a train believed to be carrying Iraqi tanks and a presidential palace used by Saddam Hussein. And top U.S. officials again raised the prospect that Saddam may be dead or disabled, the possible victim of a U.S. strike on the war's first day.

Not all news Sunday was good for the coalition: A man in civilian clothes drove a pickup truck into a line of U.S. soldiers in Kuwait, injuring 15. And the U.S. death toll grew to 43 with the deaths of five Marines in three separate incidents.

Facing reporters at his headquarters in Qatar, U.S. Army General Tommy Franks brushed aside questions about the progress of the war or disagreements inside the Pentagon. The war is proceeding well, he said, and the Iraqi government is doomed, with or without Saddam.

"The regime is in trouble," said Franks, overall commander of the war, "and they know it."

American and British pilots continued to enjoy command of the skies, bombing military targets in and around the capital.

They struck the Abu Garayb Presidential Palace, the Karada Intelligence Complex, two surface-to-air missile complexes, a paramilitary training center and telephone exchanges, all in Baghdad, according to the U.S. Central Command. They also struck a train and fuel storage depots near Karbala, where the Republican Guard is dug in to stop the expected assault on Baghdad by the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

Allied forces also attacked the suspected Khurmal terrorist camp north of Baghdad in northeast Iraq—identified by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in a pre-war speech to the United Nations—killing an undetermined number of presumed terrorists in the process, U.S. officials said. British media reported that 120 were killed.

Franks called the facility used by the militant group Ansar al-Islam "massive" and said ground forces were searching it Sunday. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it comprised dozens of sites, including tunnels and bunkers.

"We have destroyed a major portion of it. We've killed a large number of terrorists," Rumsfeld said on the Fox New Sunday program.

"We know that ... they were developing toxins and poisons in that area. We know that al-Qaida was connected to it ...We're not certain what we'll find, but we should know more in the next three days, three or four days."

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on CNN that he believed the camp was used to develop a biological toxin, ricin, traces of which were discovered earlier this year in London.

In another troubling sign that Iraq might be preparing to use chemical weapons, Marines raided a building used by Iraq's 11th Infantry Division inside An Nasiriyah and found more than 300 chemical suits and gas masks, as well as injectors of the nerve gas antidote atropine, the U.S. Central Command said Sunday.

Marines also seized more than 800 rocket-propelled grenades, 300 mortar shells and more than 17,000 rounds for rifles and machine guns.

In the besieged southern Iraqi city of Basra, British Royal Marine commandos killed a Republican Guard colonel whom they suspect was sent to Basra to invigorate pro-Saddam forces there, according to British Group Capt. Al Lockwood.

Initially, the British military reported that it also had captured an Iraqi general in Basra, but later Sunday British military spokesman Will MacKinlay told BBC television that the report was wrong, attributing the mistake to "the fog of war."

Elsewhere, Britain's 16th Air Assault Brigade captured the Baath Party's number two official for the Rumaila region.

Three U.S. Marines were killed Sunday when their UH-1 Huey helicopter crashed at a forward supply and refueling site in Southern Iraq. Two others also were killed Sunday, one struck by a Humvee during a firefight, the other drowned when his Humvee rolled into a canal.

At Camp Udari in Kuwait, a man in civilian clothes driving a stolen white pickup truck plowed through throngs of soldiers as they waited in line at a post store, injuring 15. He was shot and critically wounded when he ignored orders from military police to stop.

The driver was identified only as a third-party national, meaning he is neither American nor Kuwaiti.

"We heard his engine revving and he veered to the left and luckily I went right," said Maj. Lora Elliott, an historian with the 101st Airborne Division. "He was fishtailing, he accelerated so hard."

The incident came just a day after a suicide bomber killed himself and four Americans in Iraq, and amid threats of a wave of such attacks in Iraq and in the United States.

Sunday night the Defense Department identified the four U.S. soldiers killed in the Saturday suicide bomb attack as:

_ Pfc. Michael Russell Creighton Weldon, 20, of Conyers, Ga.

_ Spc. Michael Edward Curtin, 23, of South Plains, N.J.

_ Pfc. Diego Fernando Rincon, 19, of Conyers, Ga.

_ Sgt. Eugene Williams, 24, of Highland, N.Y.

All four were assigned to the 2-7th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

Iraqi television reported that Saddam posthumously honored the Saturday bomber and that his family has been awarded $34,000. "This is just the beginning," said Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan. "The day will come when a single martyrdom operation will kill 5,000 enemies."

U.S. officials again raised the possibility that Saddam Hussein was killed or seriously injured on the first day of the war.

"We have not seen Saddam Hussein or his sons live anywhere or heard any reports live," Rumsfeld said, adding that videotapes of Saddam could have come from a previously recorded bank of tapes. He said the tapes "do not look legitimate to me."

American officials noted with interest a recent photograph showing one of Saddam's personal bodyguards guarding someone else, Rumsfeld said. "It may be an indication that Saddam Hussein is not moving around much," he said.

Elsewhere, there were signs that Iraqi hostility might be easing, at least in the port city of Umm Qasr.

Franks noted that two brothers sent to launch suicide attacks surrendered instead. "They chose to fight for the future of Iraq," Franks said, "rather than fight for this dying regime."

Also, British Royal Marines patrolling the port felt safe enough there to switch from helmets to berets to look less belligerent to locals.

Still, Franks said, allied forces would stiffen their guard in most parts of Iraq. Among the added precautions: Allied soldiers will increase the "standoff" distance between themselves and civilian vehicles.

The U.S. Marines Sunday also signaled a new approach to stopping the harassment of their lines by pro-Saddam forces who dress in civilian clothes and mingle with the populations of towns along the Marine supply routes.

The Marines said Sunday they have detained 300 civilians, a change in the Pentagon's Rules of Engagement. Some of those being held could be shipped to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the United States is interrogating suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan and other places.

The decision to detain suspicious civilians came after Marines began noticing young, well-fed civilians with military boots, short haircuts and nice watches dawdling in unusual places.

And with allied forces facing more difficulty than expected, Franks and Rumsfeld disputed media accounts that Franks had argued unsuccessfully for a larger force before starting the war.

"I did not request additional troops before the beginning of what you refer to as the ground war," Franks said in Qatar. "There are very few people who know the truth of how this plan was put together."

"Every thing they've requested has in fact happened," Rumsfeld said of the military commanders.


(Smolowitz reported from U.S. Central Command Headquarters in Qatar; Thomma anchored from Washington. Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Jessica Guynn at the Pentagon, John Sullivan at Camp Udari in Kuwait, Juan O. Tamayo at Marine Headquarters in Iraq, and Jeff Wilkinson in Kuwait contributed to this report.)


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

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ

GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20030330 Iraq Day 12 summary; 20030330 Iraq Day 12 rdup; 20030330 Iraq Day 12 update