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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Troops Cross Baghdad's Red Zone

ReutersA plume of smoking rising from the Republican Guard palace Wednesday in Baghdad.
NUMANIYAH, Iraq -- Closing to within 50 kilometers of Baghdad, U.S. forces seized two bridges over Iraq's major rivers and swept past battered Republican Guard units Wednesday. One of the key Guard divisions, defending the city of Kut, "has been destroyed," a U.S. general said.

The U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division and the U.S. 1st Marine Expeditionary Force launched a two-pronged attack toward Baghdad, and both reported breakthroughs as units entered the so-called red zone within range of the guns and missiles defending the capital.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein issued a warning to Iraqi Kurdish leaders "not to rush and do something that you'll regret." The statement, which Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf read Wednesday night on Iraqi state television, apparently referred to Kurds in northern Iraq who are working closely with U.S. forces.

"It is my moral and constitutional duty to warn you of the dangers of the game this time round if you and others persist in taking part," the statement said.

In a statement earlier Wednesday, Hussein declared that "victory is at hand."

Al-Sahhaf called reports of a U.S. breakthrough near Baghdad "illusions." As for the Tigris River crossing, he replied: "We welcome them, but this is not true."

Bombs continued to rain on Baghdad, with telephone exchanges among the targets hit Wednesday. Intermittent explosions could be heard at night on the outskirts of the city, with the sound of aircraft overhead more frequent.

U.S. 3rd Infantry units surged past the strategic city of Karbala, targeting an estimated 2,000 paramilitary fighters. Karbala, which sits on the main approach to Baghdad from the southwest, was encircled and hit by night-long bombardment from U.S. artillery and warplanes.

Also Wednesday, the U.S. 3rd Infantry seized a bridge over the Euphrates River at Mussayib, about 65 kilometers from Baghdad, as it advanced through the Karbala Gap. The bridge, taken with little or no resistance from Iraqi forces, had been rigged with explosives, but engineers defused them.

To the east, U.S. Marines moved to within 65 kilometers of Baghdad after capturing an important bridge over the Tigris River near Kut.

"What we're seeing is a multipronged approach," said Lieutenant Mark Kitchens, a U.S. Central Command spokesman. "The noose is quickly tightening around the neck of this regime."

U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said the Baghdad Division, defending Kut, was destroyed. An Iraqi military statement read on Iraqi satellite television, denied that the division was destroyed, saying it remained ready to fight.

U.S. Marines driving into Numaniyah, west of Kut, watched a man swap his Iraqi army uniform for a brown robe. They quickly arrested him. The side of the road was littered with military uniforms.

In central Iraq, between Diwaniyah and Kut, thousands of U.S. Marines took a route so recently secured that at one spot, the bodies of four dead Iraqi soldiers lay around a vehicle that still had its engine running. For the first time in a week, the troops passed through populated towns. Some people smiled, waved and sold Iraqi-brand cigarettes to the Marines.

U.S. Central Command said Marines found two al-Samoud II missiles, which UN resolutions bar Iraq from having, during ground operations Monday on a farm near Hillah, in central Iraq.

In northern Iraq, Baghdad's forces shelled a village in the Kurdish autonomous region Wednesday, and fighter jets of the U.S.-led coalition targeted Iraqi positions 160 kilometers north of Baghdad.

U.S. soldiers on the front lines and relatives in the United States rejoiced over the rescue of U.S. Private First Class Jessica Lynch from captivity at an Iraqi hospital used as a military command post. The U.S. commandos who found her also retrieved 11 bodies, some of them believed to be American soldiers.

The commander of British forces in Iraq, Air Marshal Brian Burridge, described the latest developments as "certainly a decisive engagement in which we are now just beginning with the Republican Guard."

"The point I would make, though, is that decisive phases often take time. I wouldn't want to give you the impression that within a day or two this is going to be finished," he said.

In Najaf, about 80 kilometers south of Karbala, U.S. forces were being fired on from the Ali Mosque, one of the most important Shiite Muslim shrines, U.S. Central Command said, adding that coalition forces have tried to minimize damage to religious sites.

Qatar-based al-Jazeera television reported that about 30 Yemeni volunteers, carrying AK-47s, arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday. Iraq's embassy in Jordan, said 5,500 Iraqis have obtained temporary passports to return home since the war started.

The International Red Cross, meanwhile, said some of its staff members saw the bodies of dozens of people -- including women and children -- in Hillah. At least 280 injured people were being treated at a hospital, the Red Cross said.

Iraqi officials said Tuesday that U.S. Apache helicopters attacked a residential neighborhood in Hillah, killing 33 people and injuring more than 300. The U.S. Central Command said it was investigating the claim.

Sobering new details were reported about an incident Monday in which Iraqi civilians, mainly women and children, were killed by U.S. soldiers near a checkpoint 40 kilometers south of Karbala.

U.S. officials originally gave the death toll as seven in the incident, while reporters at the scene placed it at 10. Bakhat Hassan told Knight Ridder Newspapers he lost 11 family members.

Protests against the war continued. In Yemen, 20,000 people demanded that their government let them go defend Iraq. In Sidon, Lebanon, more than 10,000 Lebanese and Palestinians chanted "Death to America!" and "Death to Britain!"

In Quetta, Pakistan, some 30,000 demonstrators burned the U.S. flag and effigies of President George W. Bush at a protest organized by hard-line Islamic political parties.