CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar April 9 —
U.S. and British airstrikes pounded Iraqi forces Wednesday in the
northern city of Tikrit, the next focus of the war now that U.S.
troops have largely secured Baghdad.
Special operations forces also were "softening the battlefield"
before any U.S. ground troops move into the hometown of Iraqi leader
Saddam Hussein and the presumed hideout for his supporters, U.S.
With the world's attention riveted on jubilant residents of the
Iraqi capital, U.S. military officials warned that bigger battles
may lie ahead as coalition forces plow deeper into northern
"This battle definitely isn't over," said Capt. Frank Thorp,
spokesman at U.S. Central Command. "We know there are very strong
possibilities of tougher fights to follow.
"And there's still a lot of territory to cover," he said.
There were signs, however, that beyond Baghdad and in much of
southern Iraq, combat operations were coming to an end and
humanitarian and peacemaking ones were beginning.
British forces shifted to "security and stability efforts," in
Basra, the southern city under British control for days now though
beset by looting.
"We've come as war fighters, and now we're very much into the
peacemaking business," said Group Capt. Al Lockwood, a spokesman for
British forces in the Persian Gulf.
North of Basra, coalition forces expanded their reach to Amarah,
wiping out remaining regime fighters and shifting to humanitarian
work for needy Iraqis, said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks.
The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force met "minimal" resistance from
the Iraqi 10th and 14th army divisions in Amarah, who largely
abandoned their weapons after coalition airstrikes and the fall of
Basra, Brooks said.
"Coalition forces at this point now occupy the 10th Armored
Division headquarters and will transition into humanitarian
assistance and civil military operations in the al-Amarah area," he
In the north, special operations forces and Kurdish fighters
seized a small town 15 miles north of Mosul and captured over 200
Iraqis, Brooks said.
Special operations forces backed by airstrikes also attacked
Iraqi positions about 20 miles south of the northern city of Irbil,
destroying tanks, cargo trucks and enemy forces.
But it was in Tikrit that U.S. forces were concentrating their
airpower, particularly since reinforcements have moved in and around
the city to bolster units in what may be the last Iraqi stand.
Lt. Mark Kitchens, a Central Command spokesman, said airstrikes
and special operations forces were "actively engaging" Iraqi forces
believed to be a combination of the Republican Guard, Baath party
members, paramilitary fighters and regular army units.
Brooks suggested Iraqi reinforcements were coming from the north,
pressed by U.S. and Kurdish fighters, as well as from south of
Asked if the 4th Infantry Division, which is preparing to deploy
from Kuwait, might be sent to Tikrit, Thorp said: "I don't think it
would be unreasonable, but I don't think we're going to say yet
where actually they're going to be used."
In nighttime raids this week, Navy warplanes bombed a Republican
Guard barracks and garrison in Tikrit, said Rear Adm. Barry
Costello, commander of the USS Constellation.
"We certainly are focused on Tikrit to prevent the regime from
being able to use it as a place to command and control, to restore
command and control, or to hide," Brooks said.
"We anticipate that any fighting that would occur there, if we
happen to go to Tikrit, would be similar to what we've seen in other
parts of the country," he added.
American troops have secured roads into the city from Baghdad to
stop Iraqi leaders from fleeing, but U.S. officials refused to say
if any regime leaders had been nabbed trying to reach Tikrit.
Thorp said the Iraqi forces in Saddam's hometown weren't "viable"
but could still pose a threat.
"We expect there will be resistance, there will be fighting
continued in Baghdad and other places on the way to Tikrit. But we
won't see any truly organized fighting," he said.
|U.S. Special Forces take a
position in a Baghdad intersection, near a portrait of Saddam
Hussein, Wednesday, April 9, 2003. (AP Photo/John
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