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U.S. seizes Iraqi officers in Nasiriya

A corporal of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit guards his camp near Nasiriya.
A corporal of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit guards his camp near Nasiriya.

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Marines near the Iraqi city of Nasiriya have recovered the bodies of some of their comrades who had fallen in battle. CNN's Alessio Vinci reports (March 28)
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NASIRIYA, Iraq (CNN) -- As dusk settled over Nasiriya, U.S. Marines attacked Iraqi positions on the north side of the strategically important Euphrates River, CNN Correspondent Art Harris reported Sunday.

The Iraqi positions were pounded by cannon fire from Marine light armored vehicles, according to Harris, who is embedded with the 2nd Marines, Task Force Tarawa.

Nasiriya has seen intense fighting for almost a week . (Map of Iraq) Last Sunday, U.S. Army soldiers apparently took a wrong turn and were ambushed in the area by Iraqi forces who killed 10 Americans and captured at least five others.

Forces with the U.S. Marines 3rd Battalion, 2nd Regiment have captured an Iraqi general and other officers, as well as several Baath Party leaders, Harris reported.

In a pre-dawn raid, he said, they also captured the headquarters of an Iraqi unit, surprising three Iraqi soldiers. Two of the three tried to escape. Of those, one was shot and killed, and the other was wounded and transported by helicopter from the field to obtain medical treatment.

An Iraqi warrant officer "who acted like he was about to come in the building and make some coffee just looked around and gave up," one Marine officer told CNN, according to Harris.

The U.S. Central Command announced last week that Marines from Task Force Tarawa had found large caches of weapons, ammunition and chemical decontamination equipment in buildings in Nasiriya -- including a hospital.

The hospital contained more than 300 chemical suits, more than 300 gas masks, atropine injectors, two chemical decontamination vehicles and other chemical decontamination devices, Central Command's statement said. Pentagon officials said Saturday that the Marines had made another significant find at the hospital: bloodied U.S. battle fatigues believed to have belonged the ambushed soldiers. (Full story)

"We will bring in subject matter experts to positively identify all the equipment we found," said Col. Ron Johnson of Task Force Tarawa.

Also found in the Marine raids were more than 800 rocket-propelled grenades, thousands of rounds of 7.62 mm rifle ammunition, 14.5 mm ammunition and 12.7 mm machine gun ammunition, mines, several hundred artillery rounds and more than 300 rounds of various mortars, Central Command said, adding that the U.S. forces are still trying to determine the "exact amount" of Iraqi equipment seized in the operation.

Harris reported that the seized rounds of machine gun ammunition numbered in the millions. He noted that 10,000 rounds were found in one schoolhouse alone.

In the wake of an Iraqi suicide attack on a coalition checkpoint in Najaf Saturday morning, Marines in Nasiriya are taking steps to strengthen their security.

An intelligence officer said civilians are terrified of Iraq's ruling Baath Party officials, who have threatened to kill anyone who takes food from the Americans. But when a neighborhood party official is captured or killed "people are coming out of the woodwork to help us," the officer told CNN.

"They are giving us valuable information and acting like they feel free," he said.

Marines plan to keep targeting Saddam Hussein's political and military leaders in Nasiriya.

Recently seized documents listing Iraqi hideouts, headquarters and personnel have proved to be "a treasure trove" of intelligence, a Marine officer told CNN.

CNN Correspondent Art Harris contributed to this report

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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