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Iraqis press for urban warfare

U.S. Marines in southern Iraq
U.S. Marines in southern Iraq

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DOHA, Qatar (CNN) -- Iraqi Republican Guard troops appeared to be taking sanctuary in two cities south of Baghdad Monday in an apparent effort to bait U.S. forces into urban combat as they converge on the capital.

The elite fighters -- who appeared to be trying to lure U.S. fighters into battle inside the town -- had also gathered in another central city near Al Hillah, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Baghdad, CNN's Walter Rodgers reported, without naming the city.

The coalition ground units looked to be encouraging the Republican Guard units to come out of their hiding places and fight the U.S.-led forces in the desert, said Rodgers, who is embedded with the U.S. Army's 3rd Squadron of the 7th Cavalry.

Rodgers added there had been exchanges of artillery fire but added U.S. troops were avoiding targeting surface-to-air missile sites in the cities because of a risk of civilian casualties.

Analyst Dan Plesch from the Royal United Services Institute told CNN that the Iraqi fighters were presenting a tough front to prevent coalition ground forces from reaching Baghdad.

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks of U.S. Central Command said Monday that the Republican Guard was one of the coalition's "key targets."

"We know they're part of the solid defensive structure of the regime ... so we're targeting and destroying a number of them, but I'm not going to tell you the number," he said at a briefing in Qatar.

U.S. Central Command said about 100 "terror squad members" were killed early Monday in fighting around Najaf and Samawah in southern Iraq.

Allied forces also struck paramilitary forces sheltering at a disused prison in the western Iraqi town of Ar Rutbah Sunday, the coalition said Monday. Peace activist Peggy Gish, who witnessed the strikes, said one of them had hit a children's hospital.

Iraq's foreign minister continued to maintain that the U.S.-led coalition is being "defeated on all fronts and are retreating in the face of strong strikes" carried out by a popular resistance.

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

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