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Last Updated:  Saturday, 12 April, 2003, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
US marines take strategic town

David Loyn
BBC correspondent with the US marines in Kut

US marines
US marines faced tough fighting in Kut
United States marines have taken the town of Kut in eastern Iraq, potentially opening up a new supply corridor to Baghdad from the south.

Fears that Islamist irregular forces would defend the town were not realised.

US marines set out overnight in some force towards the town after intelligence reports suggested that several hundred Arab fighters had gathered there in a football stadium.

Exits to the north and west were sealed off, leaving only the route up from the south-east.

The Americans feared there would be a fight with determined Islamist fighters motivated by hatred of America's invasion of this Arab country.

Missing link

In the event, the fighters, if they were here at all, melted away into the night and US marines were greeted by crowds of people who seemed mostly happy to see them.

The US marine commander, Colonel Richard Mills, said several large fires in the city suggested that looters had moved in quickly, taking advantage of the breakdown in law and order.

The fall of Kut is the last missing link in a chain opening up the eastern route from Baghdad down towards Basra.

American marines now confidently move along all the roads in central Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

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