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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 March, 2003, 21:57 GMT
Coalition 'breaking Saddam's grip'
Blair and Bush at news conference
Bush said the Iraqi people would choose their new government
US President George W Bush has said that thanks to US-led forces in Iraq "the grip of terror around the throat of the Iraqi people is being loosened".

Speaking at a news conference with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr Bush said both countries were committed to freeing the people of Iraq, "however long it takes", and would stand by them in the challenges ahead.

In a passionate speech denouncing the Iraqi regime Mr Blair said two dead British soldiers shown on Arabic television on Wednesday had been "executed".

We can be confident that the goals that we have set ourselves will be met
Tony Blair

The US and UK would seek a series of United Nations resolutions on Iraq to secure the rapid delivery of humanitarian aid and the creation of an appropriate post-war administration, he said.

President Bush spoke of the urgent need to resume the UN's oil-for-food programme to help Iraqi civilians - but he warned that the aid effort should not be politicised.

In Iraq, US and UK forces have engaged in fierce fighting in at least three areas as they encounter stiffer resistance than had been expected.

Other military developments

  • Iraq's Defence Minister says he expects coalition forces to surround Baghdad within five to 10 days, but says they will face street-to-street fighting if they enter the city.

  • Iraqi President Saddam Hussein vows to "inflict maximum material and human damage among enemy ranks" at a meeting with Baath Party senior members.

  • Baghdad comes under renewed bombardment from coalition war planes, with powerful blasts reported in both the centre and outskirts of the city

  • The US says that it will step up operations in the next few days as weather in the region improves after days of sandstorms

  • UK raids destroy transmitters in Basra, taking state radio and television off the air in the city and effectively cutting off its communications with Baghdad

Mr Bush said the form of government in Iraq, following the removal of Saddam Hussein from power, would be determined by the Iraqi people, and not imposed on them.

HUMAN COST OF WAR
US: 24 dead (including 8 in accidents, 2 under investigation), 10 missing
UK: 20 dead (including 14 in accidents, 4 to 'friendly fire'), 2 missing presumed dead
Iraq: More than 350 civilian deaths, military deaths unknown
*Figures from each government

After his summit with the US president at Camp David, Mr Blair is to travel to New York for a meeting with the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

In fresh military action US troops and members of Iraq's Fedayeen units have fought a major battle in the town of Samawah, the site of a crucial bridge on the way to Baghdad.

US forces have also bombed the town of Nasiriya after coming under fire overnight from defenders - as many as 30 US soldiers have been injured, some of them possibly by so-called friendly fire.

Northern front

And UK tanks destroyed 14 Iraqi tanks and a number of armoured vehicles attempting to break out of the city of Basra.

Separately, hundreds of American troops have parachuted into northern Iraq in the first big US deployment north of Baghdad - what one unnamed US defence official called "the beginning of the northern front".

IRAQ CAMPAIGN

The Pentagon said the paratroops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade had taken control of a key airfield in Kurdish-controlled territory, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) north-east of the city of Irbil.

Also in northern Iraq, Kurdish militiamen have crossed the front-line into Iraqi government-controlled territory, seizing a hilltop position guarding the advance to the city of Kirkuk, after Iraqi forces withdrew.

In the fighting in the south, the Americans used heavy guns and tank shells as well as Apache helicopters to try to dislodge an estimated 1,500 Fedayeen fighters guarding a bridge across the Euphrates river.

The US needs to capture the town to secure its supply routes as its forces move north, according to the BBC's Gavin Hewitt, who is travelling with the troops.

In other developments

  • The US ambassador to the UN walks out of the Security Council debate on Iraq, while Iraq's envoy is accusing the US of trying to exterminate the Iraqi people.

  • Arab news channel al-Jazeera shows what it says is exclusive footage of a US Army Apache attack helicopter which Iraq claims to have shot down

  • UK Chancellor Gordon Brown announces that he will nearly double the UK war budget to 3bn ($4.5bn)

  • The UK says the discovery of chemical weapons protection suits at a deserted Iraqi command post in the south could indicate that Iraq intended to use chemical weapons in the war

  • Kuwaiti officials say a Patriot anti-missile battery destroyed a missile fired at Kuwait from southern Iraq

  • A UK ship carrying 500 tons of food, water and blankets has been prevented from docking in the port of Umm Qasr by the discovery of a mine in the harbour.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Nick Bryant
"This afternoon there was none of the pre-war bravado about shock and awe"



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