By Paul A. Anthony, Editor in Chief
United States and British forces have continued the strike on Iraq this week, and military officials say the allied troops are making gains toward the goal of disarming President Saddam Hussein.
But a sandstorm mixed with guerrilla attacks from Hussein loyalist fighters have dampened the spirits that opened the war.
British troops have been engaged in a fierce battle for Basra in the south, where at press time, it appeared Basra civilians were revolting against Iraqi rule there, British officials said. Iraqi officials denied the reports.
Meanwhile, a third day of battle in An Nasiriya resulted in the capture of a hospital from which Iraqi forces were staging.
Earlier in the week, surprise attacks in the city resulted in the loss or capture of dozens of American soldiers Monday.
However, a third major battle opened Tuesday afternoon close to Baghdad. At press time, U.S. officials were reporting significant Iraqi losses.
Bombs continue to hit Baghdad, and forces have reportedly captured several bridges, cities and oil fields in southern Iraq since the beginning of the operation last week.
Marines have also captured the southern headquarters of the Baath Party, Saddam’s political party. A Baath leader was captured by British forces Tuesday. But televised images of American prisoners of war, heavier resistance than expected and a strong storm have diminished expectations in the United States, although polls show a vast majority of Americans and smaller majority of Britons support the war and the leaders’ handling of it.
Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of the United States Central Command, reported that about 3,000 Iraqi soldiers have been taken prisoner, and many more have surrendered and returned to their homes.
But in Basrah, many military and militia members are using residential areas as a base of operations to discourage coalition bombing.
Ground troops are expected to reach Baghdad, where Iraq’s top soldiers are stationed, soon. At press time, troops were within 50 miles of the city.
Also, some military officials say the closer coalition forces get to Baghdad, the more likely Iraq will be to use weapons of mass destruction.
Amanda Baker contributed to this report.