The commander of the US-led war in Iraq, General Tommy Franks, has said coalition forces have made "truly remarkable" progress in the campaign to oust Saddam Hussein.
Franks: The campaign is going well
Speaking at a press briefing in Qatar, General Franks angrily denied reports that ground forces had been ordered temporarily to halt their advance on Baghdad because of formidable Iraqi resistance and overstretched supply lines.
"[Combat operations] are continuing in the north, they're continuing in the west, they're continuing right around Baghdad," he said.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said however that the war was "going very well" from the Iraqi point of view.
"The US and British have been surprised that the Iraqi people are resisting so courageously," he said.
"They are deceiving themselves, they are deceiving public opinion. What they are trying to sell is unbelievable. It is cheap lies."
Correspondents meanwhile report the Iraqi capital is now being bombed around the clock, with some of the most intensive bombardments since the start of the war 11 days ago.
B-52 bombers have been dropping massive payloads on Republican Guard positions in the southern outskirts of the city, while laser-guided bombs have struck communication facilities and government buildings inside Baghdad.
On the southern approach to Baghdad, from where the American assault on Baghdad is most likely to come, US troops have been digging in, ringing their positions with foxholes and artillery pieces to defend them while they wait for the order to advance.
In other developments:
- US intelligence sources say Islamic militants, including Yemenis, Palestinians and Chechens, have joined Iraqis fighting in the central town of Nasiriya
- Three people die and one is injured when their US marine helicopter crashes in southern Iraq, Pentagon officials say
- Fifteen people are injured when a truck drives into a group of American soldiers at Udairi Camp military base in Kuwait
- Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf says Iraq has shot down two US helicopters, killing two pilots; the Pentagon denies the claim
- British forces say they have captured five Iraqi officers and an Iraqi general, and killed a Republican Guard colonel, in clashes south of Basra
- The UK Government says the head of Baghdad's air defences has been sacked because Iraq's own missiles have been falling on the capital; Iraq has not responded to the reports
General Franks told reporters coalition forces had achieved a series of objectives since the start of the war, beginning with securing Iraq's southern oil fields.
"The Air Force has worked 24 hours a day across every square foot of Iraq, and every day the regime loses more of its military capability," he said.
He dismissed reports the coalition had been set back by unexpectedly stiff Iraqi resistance, saying: "We're in fact on plan. And where we stand today is not, in my view, only acceptable but truly remarkable."
General Franks said the Iraqi people would "welcome their liberation", and said coalition successes meant the way was now clear for humanitarian aid shipments to begin.
The commander also rebutted claims that he had requested additional troops before the ground war began and said that those on the way had always been in the pipeline.
In London, UK Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien, said the US-led forces were reshaping but the war was going to plan.
"We're very clear about where we are," he said. "We are now shaping the battlefield for the next stage and things are pretty much where we expected at this stage."
The BBC's Michael Voss, who is in Qatar, says while officially there is no pause, there is nonetheless a realisation that this could turn into a protracted war and the focus now is on securing supply lines.
US commanders have been reviewing procedures after the loss of four soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division in a suicide bombing near the central town of Najaf on Saturday.
AIR CAMPAIGN TO DATE
Coalition has dropped 6,000 precision-guided bombs
US has fired 675 Tomahawk cruise missiles
Coalition warplanes have flown more than 1,000 missions
Source: Pentagon figures on 29 March
Head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, told BBC television: "I think we can adjust our tactics and techniques to overcome that threat [of suicide bombers]."
The attack was the first suicide bombing of the war, but Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan warned: "This is just the beginning."
He added: "It will be routine military policy. We will use any means to kill our enemy in our land and we will follow the enemy into its land."