U.S. Halts Cruise Missile Launches Over Saudi Arabia, Centcom Says

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The United States stopped launching Tomahawk cruise missile over parts of Saudi Arabia after the kingdom complained that some of the weapons landed in the vast desert country, the U.S. Central Command said Saturday.

The military also said 200 Iraqi paramilitary fighters were killed in a coalition airstrike near the besieged city of Basra. It was one of nine strikes against Baath Party headquarters in Iraq, the Central Command said.

The cruise missile problems involved missiles fired from ships in the Mediterranean and Red seas, and a military source said late Saturday the United States was considering moving some of its ships from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf to get around the Saudi problem

Later, U.S. military officials said two warships in the eastern Mediterranean were being redeployed. They did not provide an explanation or say where the USS Anzio and the USS Cape St. George were headed.

At a briefing, Air Force Maj. Gen. Gene Renuart said launch procedures would be reviewed and the United States would "work to resume those (launches) when it's appropriate."

The Central Command, meanwhile, confirmed a suicide attack north of Najaf in which four American soldiers were killed Saturday when a car bomb exploded at a U.S. checkpoint.

Renuart called the attack, on soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division, "a symbol of an organization that's starting to get a little bit desperate."

A taxi stopped near the checkpoint, and the driver waved for help, Capt. Andrew Wallace said. Five soldiers approached the car and it exploded, Wallace told Associated Press Television News.

Renuart confirmed reports that U.S. forces had found the bodies of some troops in shallow graves near Nasiriyah, where a fierce battle has raged for days.

He said American forensic investigators were going to the grave sites. Renuart said he could not say how many bodies had been found.

The Army's 507th Maintenance Company was ambushed by Iraqi soldiers in the area last Sunday. At least two 507th soldiers were killed, and the Defense Department said eight more were missing and five were prisoners of war.

"We will also approach it from an aspect to ensure there were no war crimes committed in their deaths," Renuart said.

Renuart's deputy, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, outlined some troop operations from Friday night, including an air support mission against Iraqi compounds in Rutbah, in the western desert near the Saudi and Jordanian borders.

Also in western Iraq, special operations forces stopped 30 men in civilian clothes carrying mortars, Iraqi military uniforms and petroleum bombs, he said.

In a raid of an Iraqi commando headquarters responsible for operations in the western desert, Army Rangers captured 50 fighters, weapons, gas masks and a large cache of ammunition, he said.

North of Karbala, Apache helicopters hit the Republican Guards' Medina division, destroying tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces, and some surface-to-air missile radars, Renuart said.

He denied there was a so-called "operational pause" in the advance north to Baghdad but said the coalition's focus was on moving logistical support to units for now.

Renuart acknowledged Iraqi forces have attacked supply lines, but said the groups of enemy fighters were getting smaller, particularly in Samawa, Basra and Nasiriyah -- places where coalition forces have been engaged in nearly daily skirmishes.

Brooks said the 200 paramilitary fighters were killed Friday night northeast of Basra in one of nine coalition airstrikes against Baath party headquarters around the country.

"Each time we make one of these attacks we continue to degrade the regime," Renuart said.

British forces have encircled Basra, Iraq's second largest city, for days after meeting unexpectedly stiff resistance on the push toward Baghdad. Renuart said troops had secured the Basra refinery.

He also said British forces had moved into place so that they could "successfully interdict the northern approaches to the city." A military source said the move was designed to prevent regular Iraqi army troops north of Basra from entering the city to reinforce units still loyal to Saddam Hussein.