U.S.-led forces are reported to be advancing toward Baghdad today on fronts both south and southeast of the Iraqi capital.
Reporters traveling with the U-S Army's Third Infantry Division say some division units have surged northward past the city of Karbala, 80 kilometers south of Baghdad.
The advance followed a night of heavy coalition air attacks against regular Iraqi army troops and members of the Fedayeen militia loyal to Saddam Hussein. A U.S. Central Command spokesman, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, says the coalition also seized a nearby dam because of concern Iraqi forces would destroy it and flood the region to stop the U-S advance.
To the east, U.S. Marines are reported to be moving toward Baghdad on a main highway linking the capital with the city of Al Kut.
The U.S. military says U.S. air and ground attacks have destroyed the Baghdad division of Iraq's elite Republican Guard who were guarding the city (located about 100-kilometers southeast of the Iraqi capital.)
Iraq's Information Minister, Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf, denies that U-S forces have destroyed the Baghdad division and says reports of the U-S advances near Karbala and Al Kut are false. But reporters traveling with coalition ground forces say some U.S. troops have moved to within 30 kilometers of Baghdad.
U.S. military officials say coalition ground troops are now within the so-called "red lines" that the military believes could trigger an Iraqi attack with chemical weapons. Iraqi officials have repeatedly denied their country has any such weapons.
Meanwhile, coalition warplanes have continued to pound targets in Baghdad and Iraqi troop positions around the city. Iraq says recent airstrikes by coalition forces have killed 24 civilians and wounded 186 others over a 24-hour period, with 10 dead and 90 wounded in Baghdad.
Iraq's Information Minister claims coalition warplanes have bombed some mosques in both Karbala and the nearby city of Najaf. On the U.S. side, General Brooks told reporters Iraqi forces fired on U-S-led troops from inside Najaf's Ali Mosque -- but that coalition forces did not return fire.
Iraqi state television today (Wednesday) broadcast what it said was another message from Saddam Hussein, urging Iraqis to fight on and defend their towns. On Tuesday, Iraq's information minister read a similar message calling for a holy war against U.S. -led forces.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it was "interesting" that the Iraqi leader did not deliver the address himself. U.S. officials say that Saddam Hussein's failure to appear himself has cast new doubts on his whereabouts and physical condition.