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Iraq War Has Started

The Iraq war effectively began today, as British and American troops were involved in fierce fighting near Basra, Iraq's only seaport. At the same time, allied troops took up positions on the demilitarized zone on the Iraqi border with Kuwait. Allied warplanes bombed targets in Iraq after coming under fire in the no-fly zone. Special units are already deep inside Iraq to prepare landing strips in the desert for airborne troops. Cruise missiles have been loaded onto 14 giant B52 bombers in the UK, meaning the bombing of Baghdad is about to begin.

The fighting at Basra was part of an operation to prepare landing sites for amphibious craft during the upcoming invasion.. Basra is surrounded by marshes and sandbanks and is difficult to approach from the sea.

Bahrain has offered sanctuary to Saddam Hussein in a last minute attempt to avoid war. Bahrain is closely allied to the United States and hosts the Navy's 5th Fleet, which has aircraft carriers and destroyers stationed in the Gulf and Arabian Sea, in preparation for the war on Iraq.

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Tension is running high in the palace of Saddam Hussein because everyone suspects everyone else of being an American agent. Saddam even suspects his son Uday is plotting against him, and has shut him out of his war plans. He's convinced Uday wants to defect and that the U.S. has contacted his other relatives and offered them incentives to kill him. He's been holding meetings several times a week where close relatives are questioned and judged if they're still loyal to him. Any sign of disagreement can bring on arrest or torture.

This happened to Saddam's two half-brothers on March 5. When Barzan Al Takriti was asked what he thought of Saddam's plan to appoint his son Qusay his heir, he said, "I've shut up for 20 years in expectation of a job if the president stopped functioning." Saddam threw Barzan and his brother, Watban, out of the palace and they were later arrested.

A Saudi opposition group based in Washington, D.C. has gotten hold of a Feb. 22 memo from Saudi interior minister Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz describing several possible scenarios in which the U.S. could use nuclear weapons against Iraq. It says this could happen if the U.S. military sustains a large number of casualties, if Iraq fires biological or chemical warheads at U.S. troops or if Iraqi forces turn out to be so well protected they can't be reached by conventional weapons.

Iraq has recruited thousands of Islamic volunteers from nearby countries. They have been told to dig trenches around Baghdad and fill them with oil to block the path of advancing U.S. troops. So far, about 100 trenches have been dug. Other volunteers have been trained in suicide operations and told how to kidnap U.S. soldiers. Many of them come from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and they've been offered good salaries. One source says, "We are talking about thousands of people and they could play a major role in Saddam's defense as the military collapses in the first wave of U.S. bombings."

European Union officials have started an investigation after bugging devices were found at offices by the UN delegations from France, Germany and the U.K. On unknowncountry, we reported that a memo from U.S. intelligence was intercepted that said this type of bugging was planned. The telephone bugs were first reported by France's Le Figaro newspaper, which blames the U.S., but EU spokesman Dominique-Georges Marro says it's "impossible at this stage" to determine who planted the devices.

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