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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hussein's Troops March On South

IN SOUTHCENTRAL IRAQ -- A 1,000-vehicle convoy of Iraq's Republican Guard headed south Wednesday toward central Iraq, site of the heaviest fighting of the war. In Baghdad, Iraqi officials said two cruise missiles hit a residential area, killing 14 people.

In the far south, British forces were fighting on the fringes of the beleaguered city of Basra, and the first substantial relief ships reached the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr from Kuwait.

Blinding sandstorms swept across Iraq for a second day, grounding coalition helicopters and significantly reducing the number of flights off carriers in the Gulf and eastern Mediterranean.

The U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division was 80 kilometers from Baghdad, within striking distance, said Colonel Michael Linnington of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade, but was held back by the unrelenting sandstorms.

"We are one tank of fuel from Baghdad," the commander said. "The 101st is grounded and we're not doing what we do best, which is air assault operations and attacks. So we're waiting for a weather break."

In Baghdad, Iraqi officials said a coalition missile attack on a residential area killed 14 people and injured 30 others at midday Wednesday.

Associated Press Television News video showed a large crater in the middle of a street and bodies wrapped in plastic sheeting in the back of a pickup truck. Hundreds of people stood in front of a damaged building shaking their fists and shouting.

U.S. military officials denied targeting the residential area and said the incident illustrates how little President Saddam Hussein's regime cares about the lives of civilians.

During a briefing at the Pentagon, Major General Stanley McChrystal said U.S. forces did not specifically aim at the neighborhood, "nor were any bombs and missiles fired" there. But he could not say whether the missiles that did land there were Iraqi weapons, or U.S. missiles that missed their targets.

Later Wednesday, more huge blasts shook Baghdad.

Hoping to cripple the Iraqi government's communications, coalition troops attacked the state-run television headquarters in Baghdad before dawn Wednesday, knocking the station's international satellite signal off the air for a few hours. Iraq's information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, accused the U.S.-British coalition of striking civilian areas in several cities, notably An Nasiriyah, where he said 500 people were injured and 200 homes destroyed.

Intelligence officers with the U.S. military's 1st Marine Expeditionary Force said 3,000 Republican Guard troops were headed from Baghdad southeast to Al Kut on Highway 7, a route that avoids U.S. Army forces but leads directly to Marines who have been fighting around An Nasiriyah. Another 2,000 Iraqi troops were spotted south of Al Kut. An Iraqi military spokesman said a Republican Guard special forces unit attacked coalition troops in southcentral Iraq, destroying six armored vehicles and inflicting an unspecified number of casualties. At a refueling station in southern Iraq, helicopters brought in the wounded, three U.S. Marines, six Iraqi prisoners and five Iraqi civilians. Most other aircraft were grounded by the sandstorms.

Around Basra, British forces poised to seize the key southern city were fighting on its perimeter against more than 1,000 Iraqi militiamen. The militiamen reportedly also faced some sort of insurrection Tuesday by Shiite Muslim civilians opposed to Hussein.

"Truthfully, the reports are confused, but we believe there was some limited form of uprising," British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Parliament on Wednesday. "Once people know that Saddam's grip on power is being weakened, then there is no doubt at all that they wish to opt for freedom rather than repression."

Iraqi officials have denied there was any uprising Tuesday in Basra.

Al-Jazeera television showed video of two men it identified as being British prisoners being held in Az Zubayr, a Basra suburb, although they were not dressed in military uniforms. Two bloodied bodies of dead soldiers in uniform also were shown, but were not identified.

Basra's trapped civilian population of 1.3 million is believed to be fast running out of food and in danger of outbreaks of disease from contaminated water.

At the U.S. Central Command in Qatar, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks accused the Iraqi government of using its own civilians as human shields for some of its military units fighting against U.S. and British troops.

In London, Amnesty International said both sides may have committed war crimes, including coalition missile attacks on Iraqi TV. The human rights group accused Iraqi forces of deliberately shelling civilians in Basra and placing military objectives close to civilians.

 President George W. Bush tried to rally U.S. troops and an anxious American public Wednesday while also lowering expectations for a quick end to the war. "I can assure you there will be a day of reckoning for Iraq, and that day is drawing near," Bush told hundreds of cheering American forces and their family members in a packed hangar before heading to Camp David for talks with Blair. "Our military is making good progress in Iraq, yet this war is far from over" he said, making a last-minute change of wording that dropped a reference to the U.S. military being "ahead of schedule."

 For the first time since the U.S.-led war against Iraq began last week, the divided UN Security Council is holding an open meeting where any of the 191 UN member states can express their views on the war. Arab and nonaligned nations demanding an end to the war and the immediate withdrawal of the invasion force asked for Wednesday's meeting, which was likely to continue Thursday and attract at least 50 speakers.

 Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said Wednesday that the war will prove his country did not sell sophisticated radar systems to Baghdad, contrary to Washington's claims. "This war is a terrible thing ... but it will provide answers to many unanswered questions," Kuchma said. "I know one thing for certain, Ukraine did not sell Kolchuhas to Iraq."

The U.S. Embassy said it had no information about whether U.S. troops had found any Kolchuhas in Iraq, saying the issue remains open.