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April 10, 2003

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Skirmishes Flare Around Iraqi Capital
Skirmishes Flare on Baghdad Outskirts; U.S. Marine Killed in Gun Battle to Seize Palace

The Associated Press

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BAGHDAD, Iraq April 10

Skirmishes between U.S. forces and holdout fighters flared around the capital Thursday, and thousands of people from poor outlying districts surged into central Baghdad with wheelbarrows, pushcarts and pickup trucks to engage in a new round of looting.

A day after U.S. commanders declared that Saddam Hussein's regime no longer controlled Baghdad, one Marine was killed and up to 20 comrades were injured in a gun battle as their unit seized a palace on the northern outskirts. Marines also cleared out two mosques after determining that volunteer fighters from other Arab countries were inside, firing on U.S. troops.

But the largely one-sided battle for Baghdad appeared nearly over, and U.S. commanders were focusing on plans to oust pro-Saddam forces from their handful of remaining strongholds in the north including Saddam's heavily defended hometown of Tikrit and the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk near the northern oil fields.

Kurdish and U.S. forces advanced to the edge of those oil fields without resistance Thursday, passing deserting Iraqi soldiers en route. There was no sign of damage to the oil wells, which U.S. officials say have been rigged with explosives. Kurdish forces also took control of the oil-producing city of Khaneqin, 90 miles north of Baghdad.

After Wednesday's momentous celebrations, and after perhaps the quietest night since the war began, Baghdad residents were back out on the streets Thursday.

Motorists flew white flags on their vehicles. Many people embarked on a new wave of looting, setting fires to some Interior Ministry buildings and making off with carpets, furniture, TVs and air conditioners from government-owned apartments, abandoned government offices and the police academy.

Also looted was the German Embassy representing a government that had emphatically opposed the U.S. decision to go to war.

In Saddam City, a densely population Shiite Muslim district in Baghdad, some residents set up roadblocks, confiscated loot being brought back from the city center, and sent it to a nearby mosque.

Some U.S. units received word Thursday that they should try to stop the looting, but strategies for doing so remained incomplete.

"There's civilian looting like crazy, all over the place," said Lance Cpl. Darren Pickard of Merced, Calif. "There just aren't enough of us to clear it out."

One Baghdad man, Adel Naji al-Tamimi, 49, said had spent 17 years in prison for writing anti-Saddam articles.

"He made himself a legend and a myth," al-Tamimi said. "His atrocities and oppression controlled our feelings and we're still afraid."

In many parts of the country, civilians struggled with serious shortages of food, medicine and clean water. Several major international aid groups are demanding swift access to Iraqi civilians, without interference from U.S. or British troops.

"We need the independence to move around and do our assessments and we need security," said Kathleen Hunt of Care International. "The images we see on television (of widespread looting) are not very encouraging in terms of lawlessness in certain parts of the country."

Hoping to restore some degree of order to the southern city of Basra, British troops Thursday asked residents to turn in their guns no questions asked.

"If we want to give the new Iraq a chance, these weapons have to be taken out of circulation," said Capt. Cliff Dare of 3 Commando Brigade Engineer Group.

Humanitarian assistance is expected to be high on the agenda of the U.S.-led interim administration that is expected to begin operating in Baghdad within the next week or two. Headed by retired U.S. Gen. Jay Garner, the team will coordinate relief programs, rebuild shattered infrastructure and start setting up a democratic government.

Vestiges of the old government were vanishing rapidly. Statues and portraits of Saddam were toppled and defaced in Baghdad and other cities, while Iraqi diplomats at some embassies abroad shredded or burned documents. Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Mohammed Al-Douri, told reporters "the game is over, and I hope peace will prevail."

Saddam's precise fate remained unknown. Hoping to resolve the mystery, U.S. special operations forces examined a site in a Baghdad residential neighborhood that was bombed Monday based on intelligence that Saddam and at least one of his sons were there.

Though elated by the U.S.-led coalition's success, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said several missions remain to be accomplished before any victory declaration. Among them: securing the northern oil fields, determining what happened to Saddam and his sons, uncovering details of Saddam's weapons programs, and capturing or killing any terrorists still at large in Iraq.

Across the Arab world, the fall of Baghdad and the televised scenes of jubilation and looting provoked shock, disbelief and bitterness. Some Arabs expressed hope that other oppressive regimes in the region would crumble; others were disappointed that Saddam's forces offered such weak resistance to America.

After an anti-war march in Khartoum, Sudan, lawyer Ali al-Sayed said U.S. troops should not misinterpret the rejoicing in Baghdad as an invitation to stay.

"Those people under oppression ... they will be happy to see someone removing a dictator and liberating them," al-Sayed said. "But the moment they feel free and liberated, they will not tolerate a foreign presence."

The celebrations in Baghdad took place 21 days after U.S. forces started the war with an airstrike intended to kill Saddam. According to the Pentagon, 101 American troops died in the first three weeks of the war, 11 were missing and seven were listed as captured. The British said 30 of their troops were dead. There are no reliable estimates for Iraqi casualties; an Army spokesman said 7,300 prisoners had been taken.

One of the slain Americans, Marine Cpl. Jorge Gonzalez, 20, was buried Wednesday in San Diego. Among those at the service: his one-month-old son, Alonso, who will grow up without knowing his father.

This story was written by David Crary in New York, based on reporting from Ellen Knickmeyer, Ravi Nessman, Chris Tomlinson and Hamza Hendawi in Baghdad and other AP reporters in Iraq and elsewhere.

photo credit and caption:
Two U.S servicemen shake hands after arriving at al-Firdos Square in Baghdad Wednesday, April 9, 2003. (AP Photo/Ali Haider)

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

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