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April 8, 2003

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Coalition's Confidence Grows in Baghdad
Coalition's Confidence Grows As Troops Take Solid Positions in Iraqi Capital

The Associated Press

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U.S. forces set up a base in central Baghdad and a warplane dropped bunker-busting bombs aimed at President Saddam Hussein and his two sons. As the coalition's confidence grew, President Bush met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss the battlefield and plans for a postwar Iraq.

Iraqi forces staged a counterattack in the capital shortly after dawn Tuesday, sending buses and trucks full of fighters to overrun U.S. forces holding a strategic intersection. U.S. troops strafed the Iraqis from planes overhead and with mortar and artillery fire. Within an hour, U.S. tanks retook the intersection. At least 50 Iraqi fighters were killed, and two U.S. soldiers were reported wounded, one seriously, by snipers on rooftops.

In the midst of Monday's assault on Baghdad, a lone B-1B bomber carried out a massive strike the coalition described as a "leadership target," in an upscale neighborhood where senior Iraqi officials, possibly including Saddam and his two sons, were believed to be meeting. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said American intelligence learned of the high-level meeting Monday morning.

It was not clear who was killed; the strike left a smoking crater of dirt and concrete 60 feet deep and destroyed three nearby houses. Iraqi rescue workers pulled two bodies from the rubble, but said the toll could be as high as 14.

Unlike previous raids into the capital, U.S. forces "remained in Baghdad overnight and are still there," said Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, at Central Command. "There has been no organized resistance or effort to displace the coalition forces."

Members of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division hunkered down for the night in the sprawling, blue-and-gold-domed New Presidential Palace, where Saddam once slept. At least a dozen Iraqis were being held in a hastily erected holding pen on the grounds.

As American and British troops advanced in Iraq, their political leaders were meeting in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was the second summit for Bush and Blair since the fighting began. At a press conference, the leaders said they were committed to rebuilding the country.

"When the war is finished, it will not be easy, but we're going to see it through. The free Iraq will be ruled by law and not by a dictator," Bush said. "A free Iraq will give up all its weapons of mass destruction. A free Iraq will set itself on the path of democracy."

As airstrikes continued Tuesday, Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera reported its office was bombed, killing one staffer. While the network's cameras rolled, a second bomb fell in the same neighborhood on the Tigris, where a number of TV channels have offices. Abu Dhabi TV said its office had also been hit.

Later, the Palestine Hotel, home base for many journalists, was struck by what was believed to be tank fire. Four Reuters staff members were injured in the blast, the British news agency said.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf was speaking to reporters outside the hotel when it was hit. He dismissed a question on whether Iraq would surrender.

"The capital, especially the commandos, are getting ready to wipe them out," he said. "All is under control."

In southeastern Baghdad, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines took over a prison overnight, where they found U.S. army uniforms and chemical weapons suits, possibly from captured U.S. soldiers. Shortly after dawn, the Marines were attacked by Iraqis firing rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s; Marine snipers shot more than a dozen of them.

Other Marines were sent to guard a nuclear plant Tuesday. Near the airport, soldiers with the Army's 101st Airborne Division killed two Iraqis in a gunbattle at a former Republican Guard headquarters.

Defense officials said samples of a suspicious material found in Iraq are being tested for the presence of chemical weapons. Soldiers with the Army's 101st Airborne Division found the substance in metal drums in a compound near the city of Hindiyah, about 85 miles south of Baghdad. It was possible the substance was a pesticide, since it was found at an agricultural site, a local commander said.

If the discovery is confirmed, it would be the first chemical weapons find of the war. Finding and eliminating Saddam Hussein's chemical and biological weapons was stated as a goal of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and finding such weapons of mass destruction could mute international criticism of the war.

At the United Nations, a group of 22 Arab countries decided late Monday to push for a General Assembly resolution calling for a cease-fire in Iraq. They are certain to face U.S. opposition.

The group will seek a "very mild" resolution, said Yemen's U.N. Ambassador Abdullah Alsaidi. "It will ask for a cease-fire, respect for Iraqi sovereignty, territorial integrity. It will ask for the unity of Iraq."

Central Command said Tuesday that nearly 85,000 U.S. servicemen and British troops took part in Monday's attacks in southeast Baghdad and the southern city of Basra. They seized five weapons caches consisting of more than 10 tons of ordnance, including a number of missiles. The coalition has also taken more than 3,500 prisoners since the conflict began, Central Command said.

photo credit and caption:
U.S. Army Lt. Lars Nadig from A Company 3rd Battalion 7th Infantry Regiment reads a military map as a bullet casing flies into the air during an exchange with Iraqi forces firing on them from across the Tigris River in Baghdad Monday, April 7, 2003. The unopened bottle of French wine, vintage 1983, was found in a bombed house adjacent to the a presidential palace which American troops took over earlier Monday.(AP Photo/John Moore)

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

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