Iraqi official: U.S. lying about progress
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Coalition forces are not making the progress they tout and have lost more troops and equipment than they admit, Iraq's information minister said Wednesday.
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said that U.S.-led forces have not crossed the Tigris River and are not approaching Baghdad. But they have lost significant numbers of troops and equipment, he said.
Al-Sahaf also said that U.S. and British forces are bombing historic and religious sites and flying planes close to a mosque in Najaf to "make vibrations and destroy" important Shiite tombs within that structure.
"They are lying every day. They are lying always, and mainly they are lying to their public opinion," al-Sahaf said. "What they say about a breakthrough is completely an illusion. They are sending their warplanes to fly very low in order to have vibrations on these sacred places.
"And I think this will agitate, this will be scorned by all Shiites all over the world because those tombs are the most sacred to Shiites all over the world, and they are trying to crack the buildings by flying low over them."
U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar, said Wednesday that U.S. Marines had seized a key bridge over the Tigris near Kut and were battling Iraqi Republican Guard units southwest of Baghdad with "no reports of casualties."
Central Command spokesman Capt. Frank Thorpe also said that Iraqi forces were using the Ali mosque in Najaf as a base of operations, firing at coalition forces from the gilded dome of the tomb of the prophet Muhammad's son-in-law.
Al-Sahaf, speaking mostly in English for the first time since the war began, issued a list of civilian areas he said the coalition had bombarded, enumerating casualties in villages and neighborhoods.
The minister also said that coalition forces were throwing booby traps in the form of pens and pencils into Iraqi villages and townships.
"The authority of the civil defense ... issued a warning to the civilian population not to pick up any of those pencils because they are booby traps," he said, adding that the British and American forces were "immoral mercenaries" and "war criminals" for such behavior.
"I am not talking about the American people and the British people," he said. "I am talking about those mercenaries. ... They have started throwing those pencils, but they are not pencils, they are booby traps to kill the children."
Iraqi women in Saddam Fedayeen?
Al-Sahaf also said the Iraqis have "shot down a lot of those cruise missiles" and said war's impact was "trivial."
"I can assure you that those villains will recognize, will discover in appropriate time in the future how stupid they are and how they are pretending things which have never taken place," he said.
Al-Sahaf also praised the Iraqi military, volunteers from other countries and Iraq's irregular forces, including the Fedayeen Saddam, a paramilitary group that he said numbers in the tens of thousands and operates "on all war fields."
"They will be even stronger because there are more and more Iraqis joining Fedayeen Saddam," he said. "And don't be astonished when you hear there are Iraqi women in Fedayeen Saddam."
Asked about Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the U.S. soldier rescued from a Nasirya hospital, al-Sahaf acknowledged that "there has been an injured woman soldier there." But he said he did not "have the real account of what happened."
"Let us wait and see whether their story is true or not," he said.