CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar April 10 —
In the northern desert hometown of Saddam Hussein, die-hard Iraqi
loyalists are hunkering down under withering U.S. airstrikes and
digging in for a potential last stand.
The dusty town of Tikrit has been branded a regime stronghold by
the U.S. military. Its sprawling presidential complexes and the
tunnels beneath them could serve as Saddam's final hideout. And the
city's blood-bonded tribesmen could carry on fighting even if their
leader is dead.
U.S. Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks suggested Wednesday that Iraqi
reinforcements pressured from the north by U.S. and Kurdish fighters
and from the south by the fall of Baghdad were converging on Tikrit,
100 miles north of Baghdad.
"We certainly are focused on Tikrit to prevent the regime from
being able to use it as a place to command and control, to restore
command and control, or to hide," he said.
Ten or more Iraqi army divisions as many as 80,000 troops were in
the area between the capital and the Kurdish-controlled areas of far
northern Iraq, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers
Whether those Iraqis were willing or able to put up much of a
fight was unclear, however. Pentagon officials said Iraqi military
lines of communication were severed and they saw no evidence Iraqi
forces were getting any direction from above or working in any
U.S. officials said special forces troops are already there,
"softening the battlefield" before any U.S. ground troops move in.
Also, coalition aircraft are hitting hard at the Republican Guard's
Adnan division there. The Navy said its warplanes bombed a barracks
American troops have also blocked the roads into Tikrit from
Baghdad to stop Iraqi leaders from fleeing there and troops from
Resistance could be fierce in Tikrit if ground coalition ground
troops ever move in.
Saddam built loyalty by showering largess that turned the Tigris
River backwater into a sprawling city of 260,000 after his Baath
Party assumed power in 1968. Saddam's birthplace hosts an air base
and air force academy in addition to the Republican Guard
Tikrit's martial pride predates Saddam; the city was the
birthplace of the Kurdish warrior Saladin, who defeated the
Crusaders during the Middle Ages.
Today, Tikrit is a power center for Sunni Arab tribes, and they
may hold out for as long as possible out of fear of losing power to
the nation's Shiite majority.
Their fears could only be stoked by scenes of jubilant Shiites
celebrating Wednesday in downtown Baghdad. The Shiites were brutally
oppressed by Saddam's Sunni regime and see the U.S. forces as
If Saddam goes into hiding in Tikrit, he may be able to organize
clandestine cells and launch a guerrilla war against U.S.
The Iraqi fighters in the area are probably a combination of
military, irregular forces and Baath Party loyalists, Brooks said.
He would not say when he thought coalition ground forces would move
in, saying only, "There is still work to be done."
"This battle definitely isn't over," said Navy Capt. Frank Thorp,
a spokesman at U.S. Central Command. "We know there are very strong
possibilities of tougher fights to follow."
|A United States Special Forces
soldier is kissed by a Kurd supporter as he drives through the
crowd during celebrations in the streets of Sulaymaniyah,
Northern Iraq Wednesday April 9, 2003. (AP Photo/Kevin
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