BAGHDAD, Iraq April 5 —
A huge explosion resounded across the central part of the Iraqi
capital after low-flying aircraft were heard late Saturday, shaking
buildings including the Palestine Hotel, where foreign journalists
Earlier, black-clad members of President Saddam Hussein's
Fedayeen militia appeared 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.
U.S. troops penetrated the city early Saturday for the first
time, traveling north into the capital and turning west at the
Tigris River, out of the city and toward the airport, a U.S. Central
Command spokesman said.
A reporter touring the city of 5 million by car at midday saw no
coalition soldiers. Asked at a briefing why no reporters had spotted
them, the spokesman, Maj. Gen. Gene Renuart, suggested that in a
city so big, it was easy to miss them.
"I'm pretty comfortable that in some parts of downtown London you
can't see what is going on in other parts of downtown London," he
told a British reporter. "I can't give you any better answer than
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
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 Saddam's forces had retaken the
"Today, the tide has turned," al-Sahhaf said. "We are destroying
Later, al-Sahhaf read a statement from Saddam urging his men to
charge coalition forces "and destroy them." The statement maintained
U.S.-led troops tried to attack Baghdad because they "found
themselves lost and shocked" in battles against Iraqi forces,
guerrillas and the people.
On the southern outskirts of Baghdad, the burned out hulks of at
least two Iraqi armored personnel carriers and two all-terrain
vehicles sat along the main highway heading south. Many armed men,
some in civilian clothes, headed toward southern districts of the
city, hitchhiking for rides to the front.
There was no sign of any fighting on the road, up to about nine
miles south of the city center.
On the northern and northeastern districts of the city, army
tanks could be seen at major intersections. Armored personnel
carriers with troops on top roamed the streets.
Some new sites were hit by coalition bombs overnight, including
the National Assembly across the street from the al-Rasheed Hotel
and a police headquarters in central Baghdad and the telephone
exchange of al-Maamoun.
Elsewhere in the city, 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.
There appeared to be fewer armed men on downtown streets than
about a week ago. But members of Saddam's 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
Speaking to the Al-Arabiya Arab satellite channel, a man who
claimed to be a member of the Fedayeen vowed to keep up the
"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
keffiyah to conceal his identity.
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.
The U.S. military said it had already penetrated deep into the
"As of this morning, coalition forces are actually in the city of
Baghdad," said Navy Capt. Frank Thorp. "As we moved into the city,
we saw sporadic fighting, we've actually moved through the
Republican Guard divisions to pretty much the center of the
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
Some signs of panic were becoming evident, 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. They jumped out of the vehicle, Kalashnikovs at the ready,
and sprinted to an area among high-rise apartment blocks in central
Baghdad. There was no indication that the report was true.
On Friday, the capital's defenders prepared to make their last
stand digging ditches and stocking up on ammunition.
At the same time, thousands of frightened residents fled in
bumper-to-bumper traffic. 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.
|Smoke, seen in this image from
video, continues to darken the skies over Iraq's capital
Baghdad late Saturday, April 5, 2003. (AP
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