US and British troops take Iraqi border town

US and British troops captured the Iraqi town of Umm Qasr on Thursday in the first land assault of the war. The town is a port on the Kuwaiti border in the south of the country, 30 miles south of the key city of Basra.

Meanwhile Baghdad suffered its second night of bombardment by US-led forces, with cruise missiles targetting Republican Guard strongholds.

Iraqi television reported that Presidential palaces - including those belonging to Saddam Hussein's wife and his three daughters - had been hit.

A building in Saddam Hussein's main presidential compound went up in flames, with a huge plume of black smoke streaking skyward.

Earlier in the day, the US 3rd Infantry Division's artillery opened fire on Iraqi troops with Paladin self-propelled howitzers and multiple launch rocket systems shortly before 1700 GMT.

US attack helicopters could also be heard apparently joining the battle.

Earlier, Donald Rumsfeld confirmed that Iraqi soldiers have set light to "three or four" oilfields near Basra.

"I have seen indications and reports that the Iraqi regime may have set fire to as many as three or four of the oil wells in the south" said the US Defence Secretary.

US troops in Kuwait had reportedly been ordered to get ready for an attack on Iraq by 4.30pm GMT.

Some marines were already said to be in Iraq heading for a "specific target" believed to be the oilfields.

Iraq had initially responded to the first US strikes overnight by firing a number of missiles into Kuwait.

One of the missiles landed close to US marines based at Camp Commando in northern Kuwait at 7.28 GMT. Soldiers wore protective equipment until it was confirmed that the missile contained only conventional explosives.

US Army troops at Camp New Jersey are also believed to have been targeted.

Two missiles are reported to have been intercepted by US Patriot anti-missile defences, whilst another landed in Kuwaiti territory. There have been no reported casualties.

Some reports suggest that up to eight missiles were fired at Kuwait, including Al-Samouds and Seersuckers, as well as Scuds.

If some of the missiles are confirmed to have been Scuds it would be seen as proof that Iraq has been in breach of the US resolution banning them from having missiles with a range beyond 150km.

Earlier, in a broadcast which Iraqi TV said was made live by Saddam Hussein, he accused the US of committing a "shameful crime" by attacking Iraq, urging his people to "draw your sword" against the enemy. Wearing a military uniform and reading from hand-written notes, he vowed that "Iraq will be victorious" against the US-led campaign.

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