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April 5, 2003
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Artillery Shelling Rocks Central Baghdad
Artillery Shelling Rocks Central Baghdad As Saddam's Fedayeen Militia Roams the Streets

The Associated Press

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BAGHDAD, Iraq April 5

Iraqi fighters, tanks and artillery blocked the main roads into Baghdad and black-clad members of President Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen militia prowled the streets and manned heavy machine gun positions.

Artillery shelling rocked central Baghdad early Sunday shortly before 1 a.m. Reporters with experience in other war zones said it sounded like outgoing artillery from a few kilometers (more than a mile) away. At least one, they said, sounded like incoming.

The streets were teeming with armed men Saturday night who have taken positions on major intersections and on main roads leading to the southern, southeastern and western exits of Baghdad.

Many civilians were on the streets too, carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles. Parts of the city were deserted amid reports that U.S. forces had penetrated the capital earlier Saturday and that coalition troops had Baghdad surrounded.

Power supply seems to have been restored in more parts of the city Saturday night.

Shortly after midnight, two deafening explosions in quick succession shook buildings in city.

Earlier, on the road to the airport, Iraqi army troops danced atop what they said were U.S. armored personnel carriers destroyed in battle Friday and Saturday. The Iraqis flashed the "V-for-victory" sign.

Clouds of black smoke darkened the skies from trenches of oil set alight as a defense, but a steady stream of cars and buses passed through the plaza in front of Baghdad's large, ornate Mosque of the Unknown Soldier.

Several rockets were launched from a truck in the central Baghdad district of al-Salhiya making a roaring noise as they headed south. The rumblings of explosions could be heard throughout the city, growing ever louder as they shook buildings.

Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf held his usual midday news conference, telling reporters that U.S. troops were not in the capital and claiming that Saddam's forces had retaken the airport.

"Today, the tide has turned," al-Sahhaf said. "We are destroying them."

Saddam urged his men Saturday to charge at the coalition forces "and destroy them." His statement was read by al-Sahhaf.

Saddam said the coalition forces, by concentrating on Baghdad, have "weakened their capabilities on other fronts lines."

Police cars moved in groups in two or three with sirens squealing and occupants flashing "V for victory" signs, carrying portraits of Saddam and waving Iraqi flags.

Members of the Fedayeen, a militia led by Saddam's son Odai, appeared in the city center for the first time since the war began. They were easily identified in distinctive black uniforms.

Speaking to the Al-Arabiya Arab satellite channel, a man who claimed to be a member of the Fedayeen vowed to keep up the fight.

"They are cowards. They cannot face us on the ground. They control the sky, but we are able to confront whoever goes on the ground," said the man, who covered his face with a red-checkered Kaffiyah to conceal his identity.

In Qatar, U.S. military officers said U.S. armored vehicles and troops had entered the "heart of Baghdad," but there was no sign of them around the Tigris River, which flows through the heart of the city of 5 million.

U.S. officers did not say if American troops remained in the city or how many had entered.

Knots of soldiers clad in Republican Guard uniforms, distinctive by their red triangular insignia, patrolled the southern outskirts of Baghdad around the neighborhood of Baladiya.

Bombing and artillery fire sounded throughout that area, anti aircraft guns and mortars lined the southern entrance to the city, but they were mostly off the road away from the main road the most likely entry point of American forces.

Throughout the morning, armed men in pickup cars dashed across Baghdad at high speed.

Long lines at gasoline stations underscored the sense of crisis. Some shops were still open. In the fabled Shorja market, also in the heart of Baghdad, hawkers selling batteries and flashlights were doing brisk business. Curiously, a small store that sells birds was open.

Some signs of panic were beginning to appear, however.

Armed men ran toward an area where a rumor said a coalition pilot had parachuted into the city center. The gunmen's cars screeched to a halt. Kalashnikovs at the ready, they sprinted to an area among high-rise apartment blocs in central Baghdad. There was no indication that the report was true.

At the same time, thousands of frightened residents fled in bumper-to-bumper traffic and scorching 106 degree (41 Celsius degree) heat. They packed buses, trucks, pickup cars, taxis, private cars even horse-drawn carts with blankets, foodstuffs, furniture, heaters, television sets, pillows, stoves, cooking pots, mattresses and pillows.

photo credit and caption:
Iraqis check the wreckage of an armoured personel carrier that was destroyed during a gun battle in Baghdad Saturday, April 5, 2003. Black-clad members of President Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen militia appeared Saturday for the first time in the streets of central Baghdad, where the arrival of U.S.-led forces created a storm of rumors and confusion. (AP Photo/Taha)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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