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'Battle of Baghdad' possibly in early stages

U.S. ground troops fight Republican Guard

The U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division launches missiles to pound Iraq's Republican Guard in the suburbs of Karbala.

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CNN's Karl Penhaul, embedded with the U.S. Army V Corps, reports the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division is engaging the Iraqi Republican Guard north of Karbala (April 2)
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CNN's Martin Savidge, embedded with U.S. Marines, reports movement along a major supply route north, presumably toward Baghdad (April 2)
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KARBALA, Iraq (CNN) -- The early stages of the "battle of Baghdad" may have begun Wednesday morning as U.S. forces advanced around the southern arc approaching the Iraqi capital.

The ground troops have engaged Republican Guard forces to the west near Karbala and to the east near Kut, according to reports from correspondents in the field.

The U.S. forces include the Army's 3rd Infantry Division and the Marine Corps' 1st Division.

U.S. Apache attack helicopters flew over and past Karbala early Wednesday, said CNN Correspondent Karl Penhaul, embedded with the U.S. Army's V Corps, 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment.

On the ground were tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, he said.

U.S. commanders told him that elements of the 3rd Infantry had moved into Karbala overnight, where they encountered Iraqi troops. Infantry units later pushed through the city and were moving across the region toward the southern outskirts of Baghdad, Penhaul reported.

The 1st Battalion, 7th Marines were also on the move Wednesday in central Iraq, CNN's Martin Savidge reported.

Savidge, who is embedded with the unit, said he doesn't know where the Marines are headed but noted that there are many other convoys on the same road.

Unlike the initial push into Iraq, which was at times a sprint by military standards, the advance on Baghdad is expected to be slow and systematic, military sources have told CNN.

About 100 miles (161 kilometers) to the east, Marines took a key bridge near Kut, crossing the Tigris River after a bloody battle with the Republican Guard troops.

Scott Nelson, a Boston Globe reporter embedded with the Marines, said: "There was a relatively fierce firefight to get across the bridge."

Nelson described "scores of Iraqi dead -- it was a fairly brutal scene."

"The Marines here feel like the battle for Baghdad has begun," he said. "The beginning of the end is at hand."

Before the field reports from media sources, Pentagon sources said U.S. Marines were going after the Republican Guard's Medina division near Karbala -- a battle that began late Tuesday -- and would soon go after the Baghdad division near Kut.

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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