BAGHDAD, Iraq April 7 —
Under cover of rattling machine-gun fire, Marines grabbed planks,
poles and twisted rails Monday and surged across a shattered bridge
over a Tigris River tributary into Baghdad.
"Go! Go! Build that bridge!" an officer screamed, patting the
troops as they ran under thundering fire to get more scrap to close
a six-foot hole the Iraqis had blown in the span.
Monday's drive into Baghdad by the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines
marked the Marines' entry into the Iraqi capital, opening the way
for thousands more to move in from the southeast. The Army's 3rd
Infantry Division was marching in from the southwest.
By Monday afternoon, tanks and amphibious assault vehicles stood
in miles-long lines at two bridges, waiting to float into Baghdad on
heavy military rafts or cross on jerry-rigged bridges.
Bulldozers ferried over hours before dug into the earth to level
a route for the armored vehicles into Baghdad.
The dramatic entry on foot by the 3rd Battalion was forced by
Iraqi-laid explosives that blew open the bridge and another one
about 3 1/2 miles to the east trying to block the Marines where
Iraqi rockets and Kalashnikovs had failed.
The entry came one hour after the battalion, trained at Camp
Pendleton, Calif., suffered its heaviest loss of a skirmish-heavy
two-week drive into Baghdad.
Two Marines died and two were wounded in an artillery assault on
their armored amphibious assault vehicle an "amtrak," designed to
float in 12-foot high waves but that in Iraq has seen its heaviest
The Marines had been guarding the American-held south bank of the
reed-lined Tigris tributary.
As American artillery whistled overhead and slammed into Iraqi
targets on the far bank, a shell tore into the top of the green,
The impact peeled back the steel like paper, and blew the Marines
out. Fellow Marines gathered the dead, treated the wounded, and
collected bulletin boards, photos and scrawled notes.
"Take care of it," a gunnery sergeant said, passing down a
cardboard box scrawled in markers. "That's something for the
The assault on the bridge left the Marines grimfaced. Before,
they had spoken of nothing but taking Baghdad seeing that as the
first step to the trip home.
As it was, the entry came with them mourning newly dead friends
and no elation.
The Marines had been planning the infantry assault since Sunday
night, Battalion commander Lt. Col. B.P. McCoy said.
The Marines needed bridges that could support 70 tons to get
their tanks and amtraks across.
The broken bridge across the tributary could support only
infantry but infantry would be enough to secure the other side for
Army and Marine engineers to work on the makeshift spans.
Entry into Baghdad "means we can get at 'em," he said. "They
can't hide behind a river anymore," McCoy said.
Two companies of the 3rd Battalion rattled across on foot, led by
those whose colleagues had died in the amtrak.
They ran past a dead Iraqi sprawled across the bridge, a bullet
hole in his head, and stormed across a mound of debris they had laid
down over the gap. "You can run. It'll hold," a Marine posted at the
gap shouted at each passing comrade.
Smoke, flames and Iraqi automatic weapons fire greeted them on
the other side. Corpses of more Iraqi men lay on the route, bodies
slumped over steering wheels or out the doors of bullet-riddled
Marines moved quickly to secure hundreds of walled homes and
graceful date palm groves around the bridge.
They were on alert for more of what have been repeated suicide
attacks against U.S. forces.
The few pedestrians and vehicles received at least two warning
shots and those that kept coming were hit with a volley of American
automatic weapons fire until they stopped.
"After you give the final warning shot, shoot them dead," an
An old man, disoriented and alone, kept faltering forward with
his cane after three warning shots. Finally, U.S. weapons burst and
he fell dead.
A Marine machine gunner at the front lines lay sprawled behind
his tripod, left foot jiggling as he watched the road.
Two vehicles approached slowly, a red van and an orange-and-white
taxi. They didn't stop. The Marines fired, their bullets sending
sprays of powdered glass and smoke through the windshields, until
the vehicles rolled to a slow halt. A man rolled out of the driver's
door of the taxi. He crawled. Marines kept shooting until he
By afternoon, the vehicles still sat in the no man's land of
as-yet-unsecured territory. The Marines would find out later whether
the occupants had been attackers or confused civilians.
Calm returned. Young men ventured out and were frisked before
being allowed to move on. Old men came out of their courtyards,
drawn to the site of bulldozers leveling the banks of the
65-yard-wide tributary for the rafts and tanks.
Marines reassembled, crunching through broken glass and slogging
back across the bridge to regroup as a battalion. They passed a
mosaic at the foot of the bridge that showed a triumphant, young
Saddam Hussein on a white horse, Iraqi soldiers fording rivers and
Mortars and machine-gun fire, farther off, exploded around
"Yep," said Staff Sgt. Jack Coughlin of Boston, his face caked in
dust. "We're in Baghdad."
Late in the afternoon, the first Marine tanks rolled across a
ribbon bridge with an American flag tied to it.
Engineers of the 8th Engineer Support Battalion said they had
been working since early morning, providing covering fire when their
bulldozers took incoming fire from the opposite bank.
"The best sight of the day was those infantry guys going across
the bridge so I didn't have to listen to incoming," said Staff Sgt.
James Voy Detich, of Hot Springs, Ark.
|U.S. Marines of the 3rd
batallion, 4th regiment, escort a comrade in shock after an
artillery shell hit an Amtrack troop transporter during
fighting with Iraqi gunmen, as Marines tried to secure a key
bridge leading into Baghdad on the outskirts of the Iraqi
capital, Monday, April 7, 2003. Two Marines were killed Monday
when their Amtrack troop transporter was hit by an artillery
shell at a bridge over a canal on the outskirts of the Iraqi
capital, Lt. Col.B.P. McCoy said Monday. (AP Photo/Laurent
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