April 8 —
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 and
British Prime Minister Tony Blair looked beyond the war, declaring
that Iraq would soon be liberated.
Iraqi forces staged a counterattack in the capital shortly after
dawn Tuesday, sending fighters to overrun U.S. soldiers holding a
strategic intersection leading to a bridge over the Tigris River.
U.S. troops strafed the Iraqis from planes overhead and with mortar
and artillery fire. At least 50 Iraqi fighters were killed and two
U.S. soldiers were wounded, one seriously, by rooftop snipers.
In a potentially significant loss for the Iraqis, the 1st Marine
Expeditionary Force moved to capture Rasheed Airport in the
southeast corner of Baghdad, said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks of U.S.
Central Command. On the way, the Marines fought and defeated heavily
armed Iraqi forces in tanks and armored personnel carriers, before
moving on to the military airfield.
In the midst of Monday's assault on Baghdad, a lone B-1B bomber
carried out a massive strike on what the coalition described as a
"leadership target" in the upscale al-Mansour 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 three bodies from the rubble an elderly
man, a young woman and a little boy but said the toll could be as
high as 14. There were no unusual security measures; a reporter was
able to examine the site, talk with neighbors and watch the search
Brooks said that although the site is still in Iraqi hands,
coalition forces would likely visit it soon. He added that it would
take some time and perhaps detailed forensic work to establish who
U.S. troops in Baghdad have no plans to pull back, Army Col.
David Perkins said Tuesday. They now control most of the west bank
of the Tigris, which divides the city, and they plan to join up with
U.S. forces at the international airport, farther west. The Marines
are advancing from the east.
"We survived the first night, and that's usually the most
difficult one," said Perkins, commander of the 3rd Infantry
Division's 2nd Brigade.
The soldiers hunkered down in the sprawling, blue-and-gold-domed
New Presidential Palace, where Saddam once slept, and patrolled
neighborhoods in the city's center. At least a dozen Iraqis were
being held in a hastily erected holding pen on the grounds.
As American and British forces advanced, their political leaders
met in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was the third summit for Bush
and Blair in three weeks. At a press conference, the leaders said
they were committed to rebuilding the country.
"This work, when the war is finished, will not be easy, but we're
going to see it through. A free Iraq will be ruled by laws, not by a
dictator," Bush said. "A free Iraq will be peaceful, and not a
friend to terrorists or a menace to its neighbors. A free Iraq will
give up all its weapons of mass destruction. A free Iraq will set
itself on the path to democracy."
A key component of the talks was U.N. resolutions that would
define what role the international body would play in reconstruction
and governing postwar Iraq. Both leaders sought to rebuff comments
that U.S.-led forces were planning to occupy Iraq.
"This was indeed a war of liberation and not conquest," Blair
said. "Our enemy in this conflict has always been Saddam and his
regime, not the Iraqi people."
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 U.S. tank fire. Two television cameraman for Reuters news
agency and Spanish network Telecinco were killed, and at least three
other journalists were injured.
Perkins said the military regrets what happened but blames the
regime for militarizing civilian areas.
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."
Marines working to secure the southeastern part of the city came
under sporadic fire. The 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines seized a prison
overnight where they found U.S. army uniforms and chemical weapons
suits, possibly from captured U.S. soldiers. Other Marines were sent
to guard a power plant Tuesday.
On the west side of the city, soldiers with the Army's 101st
Airborne Division cleared a badly damaged Republican Guard
headquarters north of the international airport, where they had been
taking sniper fire in recent days. At least two Iraqis were killed.
There are also plans to explore an extensive network of tunnels
under the airport, said 1st Brigade Col. Will Grimsley. The army
suspects tunnels from nearby palaces may lead to the city.
"This will go on for weeks," Grimsley said.
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.
Meanwhile, a new cassette tape purported to be from Osama bin
Laden called on Muslims to rise up against Arab governments that
support the attack on Iraq, and urged suicide attacks. The tape was
obtained by The Associated Press in Pakistan from an Algerian
national, who said he had slipped across the border from
Afghanistan, where the tape was recorded.
There was no way to independently confirm that the voice on the
tape was that of bin Laden, and no clear indication of when the
recording was made.
|Lance Cpl. Eric Garrett, left,
of Tulsa, Okla. and Pfc. Kurt Gellert of Atlantic City, who
are combat engineers attached to 3rd Batt., 7th Marines, 1st
Marine Division, prepare to fire after a military compound
that U.S. Marines had recently taken in southeast Baghdad came
under a counter attack on Tuesday, April 8, 2003. (AP
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