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April 5, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Baghdad Battle May Be Nightmare Scenario
Battle for Baghdad Battle May Be Bloody Nightmare Scenario, Defining Moment of the Iraqi War

The Associated Press


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BAGHDAD, Iraq April 6

Saddam Hussein speaks of it repeatedly, at times even seeming to yearn for it. Many Iraqis fear it so much they've fled the city. Those in the trenches and behind the sandbags see it as the final stand against an invader or a chance to gain martyrdom.

The battle for Baghdad is the defining confrontation of the U.S.-led war to topple the Iraqi president.

The first ground fighting in the Iraqi capital came Saturday, when a U.S. armored column wheeled through the city's southwest sector in a brief incursion, clashing with fighters along the way.

But the street-to-street grind that the Iraqis have promised their American foes has yet to start.

It's a nightmare scenario a potentially costly battle in which anything from light arms, mortars to artillery, tanks and helicopter gunships will be used in this city of 5 million people.

"It's the war between the forces of the faithful and the forces of the infidels," said Nizar Faleh, a Baath Party fighter who spoke Saturday as he rested with his comrades near a sandbagged position at al-Harthiya district. "This is a crusade, a war against Islam."

By nightfall, Baghdad's streets were crawling with armed men of all kinds army troops, policemen, militiamen, loyalists from Saddam's Baath party and members of Saddam's Fedayeen, a militia led by the Iraqi leader's eldest son Odai.

Tanks, armored personnel carriers and field artillery were deployed, mostly in areas facing the city's western, southern and northern entrances.

"I am not afraid to die," said Thamer Mekki, a 16-year-old in blue jeans and a T-shirt who says he learned how to shoot a gun at 14.

"I am doing this for my country," said Mekki, next to his sentry position in the upscale district of al-Mansour.

Also among the thousands of men ready to defend Baghdad are soldiers of the elite Republican Guard, armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns. They dug fresh trenches and fortified older ones on Saturday. Soldiers took over houses close to the main highway near the southern approaches.

Trucks carrying water and fuel shuttled between positions, replenishing supplies. The soldiers and militiamen looked relaxed on their home turf and appeared to enjoy the goodwill of people who remained in town.

Residents of nearby houses offered the fighters food and glasses of sweet, black tea. Children played in the trenches and around the sandbagged positions some of them allowed to take a close look at the soldiers' weapons or try on their helmets.

Baghdad, like Damascus and Cairo, is one of the Arab world's fabled cities, boasting the accrued monuments of ancient civilizations, medieval empires and modern regimes. The significance of the battle for the city is not lost on its defenders.

In his latest message to the nation, Saddam told his fighters Saturday that Baghdad enjoyed divine protection.

"God will protect it as a symbol for virtue and faith and Jihad (holy war) even if a heavier burden came to it," he said.

Faleh, the Baath party fighter, alluded to the Arab perception that Washington has backed Israel in 2 1/2 years of violence which have left a high death toll among Palestinians.

"Every time we deal a strike to America, we're avenging our Palestinian martyrs," he said.

Another fighter, 29-year-old businessman Mustafa al-Samar'ai, says the battle for Baghdad is one against an imperialist army seeking to control the wealth of others.

"Anyone who leaves his country to be taken over by a colonial power can also surrender his honor and anything else with it," he said.


photo credit and caption:
A public communication center that was hit during an airstrike in Baghdad, on March 27, 2003, is seen from a bus during a press tour in this file picture taken March 28, 2003. The nightly ritual of screaming bombs and billowing smoke in Baghdad is followed by this daybreak reality: buildings at ground zero still standing, sometimes looking remarkably intact. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

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

 
 
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