Marines moving towards Baghdad encountered their fiercest resistance yet at the town of Najaf, 160 kilometres south of Baghdad. Seven Americans were reported killed in battles around Nasiriya. Meanwhile fighting continued in the southeastern city of Basra despite the reported surrender of the entire 8,000-strong 51st infantry division on 21 March. The Red Cross has warned of a water supply crisis in the city. Even the crucial port of Umm Qasr, declared captured days earlier, has not yet been made safe, raising dangers of a humanitarian crisis as food and medical supplies cannot yet safely be landed there. The difficulty in ‘mopping up’ these pockets of resistance has raised fears that the street-to-street fighting that many believe will be necessary to take Baghdad will be forced on coalition troops elsewhere. On the morning of 24 March, US helicopter gunships fought an intense three-hour battle with Republican guard units near the town of Karbala, 80 kilometres south of the capital.
Meanwhile the bombing campaign continued. Baghdad was bombarded for the fourth night running and the main presidential compound was reported to have been hit. Saddam Hussein’s hometown and stronghold of Tikrit was also bombed. B-52 bombers flew daylight missions over the northern city of Mosul, ahead of the opening of a northern front, to be spearheaded by the US 101st Airborne division.
In the first reported ‘friendly fire’ incident of the war, two British pilots were killed when their RAF Tornado was shot down by a US Patriot missile over northern Kuwait. An investigation has been launched. During the night two more UK pilots were reported missing-in-action in the south, according to the UK Ministry of Defence.