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'Sharpest' fighting in war to date

As many as 10 Marines killed; 12 U.S. soldiers missing

U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division soldiers secure a field near Najaf, Iraq, at sunrise Sunday.
U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division soldiers secure a field near Najaf, Iraq, at sunrise Sunday.

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NASIRIYA, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraqi forces killed and wounded several U.S. Marines on Sunday around the southern city of Nasiriya in what a senior U.S. officer called "the sharpest engagement of the war thus far."

The Marines repelled the attacks, but a CNN correspondent embedded with the 2nd Marine Division said a troop carrier capable of carrying up to two dozen Marines was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Witnesses to the troop carrier attack said at least 10 Marines were killed. But at a U.S. Central Command briefing in Qatar, Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid said the number of dead was less than that.

"We have a number of killed in the action in Nasiriya with the Marines -- I believe that number will remain less than 10 -- and a number of wounded," Abizaid said.

In addition, Abizaid said, 12 soldiers from a U.S. Army maintenance unit are unaccounted for, and some were shown on Iraqi state television as prisoners. The 12 are believed to have been captured in an ambush by Iraqi forces outside Nasiriya.

Michael Wilson, a New York Times reporter south of the city, said the worst fighting in the area appeared to be along a two-and-a-half-mile [four-kilometer] stretch of road between two bridges, and resistance appeared to be stiffening as night fell. Wilson said U.S. and Iraqi artillery traded shots for most of the day, and Marines in the city have been under machine gun fire.

Hoping to speed their advance toward Baghdad, U.S. and allied troops had not planned to occupy the city, a key crossing point on the Euphrates River.

In Baghdad, Iraqi Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad said Iraq had turned back three attempts by coalition troops to capture Nasiriya, destroying 17 tanks and armored personnel carriers in the process.

Abizaid said U.S. forces destroyed eight Iraqi tanks and an unspecified number of antiaircraft batteries and artillery.

After the attack, the captured soldiers were shown on Iraqi state television. Two of them, including a female soldier, appeared to be wounded. Some pictures showed what were said to be dead U.S. soldiers, some of whom appeared to have been shot in the forehead.

The Arabic-language satellite news channel Al-Jazeera broadcast video of the dead and captured soldiers, five of whom were told to identify themselves and their home states. CNN has decided not to broadcast video of the POWs or the dead soldiers.

In Washington, President Bush said any Iraqi officials involved in mistreating prisoners "will be treated as war criminals," and Abizaid said the display of prisoners of war on television was a "clear violation" of the Geneva Conventions.

Mohamed Aldouri, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, said Iraq will follow the international guidelines for the humane treatment of POWs

"We will respect carefully the international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions," he said. "I hope that the American Army will respect [this] also."

Other developments

• The U.S. military has secured a facility in southern Iraq that Pentagon officials said might have been used to produce chemical weapons. The officials cautioned that it wasn't clear what materials were at the facility in Najaf, about 90 miles south of Baghdad. (Full story)

• U.S. Apache attack helicopters attacked Iraq's elite Republican Guard units early Monday in an intense firefight that lasted about three hours. A CNN correspondent reported that the helicopters encountered a "heavy, heavy barrage" of anti-aircraft fire in the battle, about 60 miles south of Baghdad. (Full story)

• Two U.S. cruise missiles fell in unpopulated areas of Turkey on Monday, the Pentagon said. No one was hurt. In a separate incident the day before, Turkish and U.S. military authorities investigated an undetonated missile that appeared to have fallen into a remote village in southeastern Turkey. No one was hurt by the missile, which witnesses said left a crater 13 feet [4 meters] wide and 3.3 feet [1 meter] deep. The missile fell in Ozveren, 430 miles [688 kilometers] northwest of the border with Iraq, about 5:30 p.m. [9:30 a.m. EST], as planes were seen flying overhead, witnesses said.

• A Patriot missile intercepted an Iraqi missile fired toward Kuwait about 1 a.m. Monday [5 p.m. Sunday EST], a Kuwaiti army spokesman said. The missile was intercepted north of Kuwait City and came down away from any residential area, Col. Youssef Al-Mulla told CNN. The resulting explosion could be heard as a muffled, distant boom in the Kuwaiti capital.

• Fresh explosions jolted the Iraqi capital early Monday. One of the buildings struck was an Iraqi air force building, witnesses said. Other targets hit were southeast of the capital and appeared to be buildings struck in previous days, according to witnesses.

• Demonstrations about the conflict even touched the 75th annual Academy Awards held Sunday in Los Angeles, California. Barricades at the famed intersection of Hollywood and Vine kept demonstrators at bay, some of whom voiced opposition to the war and others who expressed support for U.S. troops in Iraq. (Full story)

• In Umm Qasr, U.S. Marines ended a skirmish with a small pocket of Iraqi forces. Forces from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit exchanged fire with Iraqis inside a large concrete building early Sunday, according to David Bowden, a British reporter embedded with the unit. (Full story)

• In Kuwait, a U.S. soldier being questioned in connection with a fatal grenade and small arms attack at a 101st Airborne Division camp was identified Sunday as Sgt. Asan Akbar, according to George Heath, spokesman for the unit's base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. U.S. military officials said 15 soldiers were wounded in the attack, at least five of them seriously. The Pentagon identified the soldier killed in the incident as Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27. (Full story)

• Turkey has given the United States permission to use its airspace to fly into Iraq, Gen. Richard Myers said. He said U.S. planes flew over Turkey to insert forces into northern Iraq on Sunday night.

• The British news agency ITN said it had "sufficient evidence" to believe its longest-serving correspondent, Terry Lloyd, was killed in southern Iraq on Saturday, apparently by coalition fire aimed at Iraqi troops. Two members of Lloyd's team are still missing and unaccounted for. One member escaped Saturday.

• A British military spokesman Sunday confirmed that a Tornado GR4 aircraft returning from an operational mission was shot down by a Patriot missile near the Kuwait border. The pilot and copilot were killed, London's Ministry of Defense said. An investigation is under way. (Full story)

• Arab media are reporting that a coalition plane went down in Baghdad and Iraqi crews are searching the Tigris River for the pilot or pilots. U.S. and British military officials said they have no reports of a plane downed over Baghdad.

• Iraq claims it has found an Israeli missile in Baghdad and accuses Israel of "taking part in this aggression against Iraq," Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said Sunday. The Israeli government denied the claim, with government spokesman Daniel Seaman saying, "Israel is not engaged in this war in any way."

-- CNN correspondents Nic Robertson, Walter Rodgers, Brent Sadler, Martin Savidge, Barbara Starr, Karl Penhaul and Alessio Vinci contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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