Elite Iraqi Column Heads for U.S. Force

KUWAIT (Reuters) – A huge column of elite Republican Guard units streamed out of Baghdad on Wednesday evening heading toward U.S. forces massed near the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, CNN television reported.

“A major column including about 1,000 Iraqi mobile units that might include tanks, might include armored personnel carriers, trucks and other things are on their way down from Baghdad toward Najaf,” CNN said, quoting one of its reporters who is traveling with the U.S. 7th Cavalry.

CNN said the Republican Guard were moving under cover of a sandstorm which has buffeted Iraq for the past day. It said U.S. troops were preparing for a possible confrontation within hours.

A U.S. military spokesman in Central Command war headquarters in Qatar said he could not confirm the report.

Simultaneously the BBC reports that in the south of Iraq between 70 and 120 Iraqi armoured vehicles had broken out of Basra. They were said to be heading south eastwards in a move which was described as “very alarming” by the military authorities.

It was assumed the vehicles were staging a counter-attack on the British forces to recapture the territory captured by alliance forces.

The British marines – ill-equipped to deal with such a move – had called in Tornado and Harrier fighter jets from Kuwait which had been attacking the vehicles “with some success”.

A “significant number” of British planes had been involved in “heavy air activity” since about 1800 GMT, an RAF spokesman confirmed.

By 2100 GMT, at least three lead vehicles in the column had been destroyed and the column had also left the main road and begun to scatter into open countryside, according to a British reporter with the UK troops.