BAGHDAD, Iraq April 5 —
Deafening explosions rocked central Baghdad early Sunday as Iraqi
troops, members of President Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen militia and
teenage soldiers patrolled streets to protect the capital from
U.S. armor penetrated the city early Saturday for the first time,
but quickly moved out and headed toward the airport on Baghdad's
western edge, U.S. Central Command officials said.
With the Americans trying to send the message they can strike
anywhere, Iraqi leaders maintained a bold front.
They denied U.S. troops had entered the capital and claimed
Saddam's forces had retaken the airport killing hundreds of American
"scoundrels," the military said.
"Today, the tide has turned," Information Minister Mohammed Saeed
al-Sahhaf said. "We are destroying them." He read a statement from
Saddam telling Iraq's fighters to rush at the Americans and "exhaust
(them) and increase the depth of their wounds."
Al-Sahhaf said the Americans were in the suburbs and in a message
on television urged residents to inform Iraqi troops about any U.S.
movements. Maintain "calm, good organization ... to confront the
enemy effectively, conquer it, and force it to retreat accursed and
defeated," he said.
By Saturday night, city streets were crawling with all kinds of
armed men government troops, militiamen, loyalists from Saddam's
Baath party. Members of the Fedayeen, a militia led by Saddam's son
Odai, appeared in their distinctive black uniforms in the city
center for the first time since the war began.
Armed with Kalashnikovs, mortars and heavy machine guns, soldiers
of the elite Republican Guard Corps dug fresh trenches and fortified
old ones. Some took over houses close to the city's southern
Government-owned Iraqi television showed footage Saturday of
Saddam meeting with his sons Odai and Qusai, although it was unclear
when the meeting took place.
Low-flying aircraft were heard over the city Saturday, followed
by huge explosions that shook city buildings. More explosions and
the sounds of artillery shelling continued early Sunday.
But for most of the night, Baghdad was relatively quiet. The
drone of aircraft flying overhead was frequently heard, but there
was no anti-aircraft fire. At around 6 a.m. Sunday, there was a
series of loud explosions.
During the day Saturday, Iraqi tanks, armored personnel carriers
and field artillery were deployed in the capital, facing the
western, southern and northern entrances that U.S. forces were
believed most likely to use.
"I am not afraid to die," said 16-year-old Thamer Mekki, an
eighth-grader in blue jeans and a T-shirt who says he learned how to
shoot a gun at age 14.
"I am doing this for my country," said Mekki, standing guard in
the upscale Mansour district.
U.S. troops traveled north into the capital Saturday, turned west
at the Tigris River, then out of the city and toward the airport,
military officials said. During the sweep, the Americans came under
intense fire from Republican Guards with small arms and
Earlier in the day, clouds of black smoke darkened the skies from
trenches of oil set on fire as a defense, but a steady stream of
cars and buses passed through the plaza in front of Baghdad's large,
ornate Mosque of the Unknown Soldier.
Several rockets were launched from a truck in the central Baghdad
district of Salhiya making a roaring noise as they headed south.
On the city's southern outskirts, the burned out hulks of at
least two Iraqi armored personnel carriers and two all-terrain
vehicles sat along the main highway heading south. Many armed men,
some in civilian clothes, headed toward southern districts of the
city, hitchhiking for rides to the front.
There was no sign of any fighting on the road, up to about nine
miles south of the city center.
Some new sites were hit by coalition bombs overnight, including
the National Assembly across the street from the al-Rasheed Hotel, a
police headquarters in central Baghdad and the telephone exchange of
Power returned to most of Baghdad on Saturday, two days after the
city went dark.
Elsewhere in the city, police cars moved in groups in two or
three with sirens squealing and occupants flashing "V for victory"
signs, carrying portraits of Saddam and waving Iraqi flags.
Speaking to the Al-Arabiya Arab satellite channel, a man who
claimed to be a member of the Fedayeen vowed to keep up the
"They are cowards. They cannot face us on the ground. They
control the sky, but we are able to confront whoever goes on the
ground," said the man, who covered his face with a red-checkered
keffiyah to conceal his identity.
Iraqis got into long lines at gasoline stations, although some
shops, including a small store that sells birds, remained open.
Hawkers of batteries and flashlights were doing brisk business in
the fabled Shorja market in the city's center.
There were also some signs of panic.
Armed men ran toward an area in the city center where rumor had
it that a coalition pilot had parachuted. The gunmen's cars
screeched to a halt. They jumped out of the vehicle, Kalashnikovs at
the ready, and sprinted among high-rise apartment blocks in central
Baghdad. There was no indication the report was true.
|Marines with India Co., 3rd
Battalion, 7th Marines guard a convoy stopped along a road
just south of Baghdad on Saturday, April 5, 2003. (AP
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