British troops suffer 27th war death

Britain has suffered its 27th death since the beginning of the war in Iraq 15 days ago.

The soldier was killed in an accident involving a light armoured vehicle yesterday. His family have been informed.

In Basra, British troops shelled Iraqi positions after they came under fire earlier today. Further north, it was reported on Wednesday that US forces have moved to within 30 miles of Baghdad and have engaged in fierce fighting with elements said to be composed of Saddam's elite Republican Guard.

At a Washington press conference yesterday, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "Coalition aircrews are delivering devastating air attacks on the Republican Guard divisions that ring Baghdad and Tikrit. Coalition forces are coming from the north, they're coming from the south, and they're coming from the west, and the circle is closing."

Meanwhile rumours surrounding the health of Saddam Hussein grew yesterday, after he failed to deliver a news broadcast scheduled for the Iraqi state broadcaster.

Iraqi Information Minister Muhammed Saeed Sahaf instead appeared to read a statement purportedly from Hussein, calling for a "jihad against the invaders".

A Pentagon spokesman claimed: "And despite the promise that he was going to appear, he didn't. The fact remains that there hasn't been a verifiable current picture of Saddam Hussein since this began."


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