Push Toward Baghdad

U.S. military forces yesterday suffered their biggest setbacks thus far in the invasion of Iraq, as officials confirmed the deaths of several troops and the Iraqi capture of at least five others in the drive toward Baghdad.

Elsewhere in the region, accidents claimed either lives and two aircraft involved in the U.S. and British effort to combat terrorism and oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. A U.S. Air Force helicopter crashed in Afghanistan, killing all six people aboard. And a U.S. Patriot missile battery mistakenly shot down a British Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 fighter plane near the Kuwaiti border, killing to two-person crew.

Iraqi forces captured five U.S. Army soldiers near the city of Nasiriyah, then released a videotape showing the Americans bruised, dazed and answering questions. The tape, carried by the Arab news network al-Jazeera, also contained gruesome images of several dead U.S. soldiers, two of whom appeared to have been shot in the head.

U.S. military officials said the soldiers belonged to an Army maintenance unit that had strayed off-course and ended up in a firefight with Iraqi militia or paramilitary troops near Nasiriyah. Twelve soldiers from the unit had been reported missing, officials said.

A Tragic Error

The British fighter plane that was accidentally downed near the Kuwaiti border was returning to its base after striking Iraqi Republican Guard forces outside Baghdad, U.S. and British defense officials said. The Royal Air Force confirmed that both of the aircraft's crew members were dead. They were the first "friendly fire" casualties of the war in Iraq.

Military Trickery

Iraqi troops and militias used ruses, ambushes and other guerilla tactics, inflicting more than a score of casualties and raising questions about whether U.S. and British forces will be able to keep up the swift pace of operations launched last week under their demanding plan. One unit of Iraqi regular troops ambushed a U.S. convoy, resulting in the prisoners being taken, while others ambushed U.S. troops in what was described as a phony surrender. In southern Iraq, remnants of an army division moved heavy weapons into a residential area that U.S. and British forces were reluctant to hit. Some Iraqi troops reportedly disguised themselves in civilian clothes.

Bush Warns Iraq

President Bush told reporters in Washington that he expected the Iraqis to treat the U.S. prisoners "humanely, just like we are treating the prisoners of theirs." He added: "I pray for God's comfort and Fod's healing powers, to anybody, coalition force, American, Brit, anybody who loses a life in this, in our efforts to make the world more peaceful and more free."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld accused the Iraqis of trying to use the capture for propaganda purposes, in violation of international laws of war on the treatment of prisoners.

Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said coalition forces were within 100 miles of Baghdad, where much stiffer resistance is expected.

Fighting near Basra

In the southern city of Basra, Iraqi soldiers entrenched themselves in heavily populated residential areas and used artillery and Soviet-era T-55 tanks to hold off U.S. and British troops who have besieged the city for two days.

The Iraqi tactic, moving fighters and heavy weapons into residential areas, had been predicted for the defense of the capital, Baghdad. But it was largely unexpected for Iraq's second-largest city, a trading hub of more than 1 million people. U.S. and British troops had expressed hope this would be a quick prize in the opening salvos of the ground war, perhaps through a negotiated surrender.

-Charles Babington