BAGHDAD, Iraq April 7 —
Dozens of U.S. tanks rumbled through downtown Baghdad with
unstoppable force on Monday, seizing one of Saddam Hussein's opulent
palaces, toppling a 40-foot statue of the Iraqi ruler and pushing
his regime to the brink of irrelevance.
Some Iraqi soldiers jumped into the Tigris River to flee the
advancing Americans. Others were captured and placed inside a
hastily erected POW pen on the grounds of the blue-and-gold-domed
New Presidential Palace.
Tank-killing A-10 Warthogs and pilotless drones provided air
cover as Americans briefly surrounded another prominent symbol of
Saddam's power, the Information Ministry, as well as the city's
best-known hotel, the Al-Rashid. Commanders characterized resistance
as mostly disorganized.
It was the third straight day the Army penetrated Saddam's seat
of power. This time, though, there were plans to stay. Rather than
withdrawing at nightfall, as units did over the weekend, members of
the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division hunkered down for the
"We can basically go wherever we want, whenever we want, even if
Saddam is still alive," said Col. David Perkins.
Marines encountered tougher fighting as they entered the city for
the first time. Lt. Col. B.P. McCoy said four or five Marines died
after an artillery shell hit their armored personnel carrier.
Marines crossed into Baghdad from the east, their engineers
deploying a temporary pontoon bridge over a canal at the southern
edge of the city after Iraqis rendered the permanent structure
unsafe for heavy, armored vehicles.
The regime, its brutal hold on a country of 23 million slipping
away, denied all of it. "There is no presence of American infidels
in the city of Baghdad, at all," insisted Iraqi Information Minister
Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf.
The Iraqi government maintained control over state-run television
and radio arguably its most important remaining levers of control
over the country and broadcast emotional appeals to resist U.S.
forces as well as images of Saddam meeting with key advisers.
The American military flexed its muscle in downtown Baghdad while
British officials said one of the regime's most brutal leaders, Ali
Hssan al-Majid, had apparently been killed in a weekend airstrike in
Basra, in the south. British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said there
was no final confirmation, but said there were "strong indications"
that a body found inside a home hit by an airstrike was
A cousin of Saddam, al-Majid was dubbed "Chemical Ali" for
ordering a poison gas attack that killed thousands of Kurds in
British forces claimed control over Basra after a two-week siege,
a city of 1.3 million, and were greeted warmly by the civilian
population. Hundreds of residents, women in chadors and barefoot
children among them, poured into the street to welcome the invaders.
Some handed pink carnations to the British troops in
American and British troops advanced in Iraq as their political
leaders were meeting in Belfast, Northern Ireland. For President
Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, it was the second summit
since the fighting began.
"The hostilities phase is coming to a conclusion," Secretary of
State Colin Powell told reporters. Without elaboration, he said the
U.S. government is sending a team this week to Iraq to begin laying
groundwork for an interim authority.
Senior officials at the Pentagon said the Army assault into
Baghdad was part of an attempt to persuade Iraqi forces that further
resistance was futile. The military would like to avoid an all-out
urban battle in Baghdad, with its 5 million inhabitants.
Missiles screamed overhead and explosions shook buildings inside
the city as more than 70 Army tanks and more than 60 Bradley
fighting vehicles pushed their way into the heart of Baghdad.
Iraqi snipers fired on soldiers from the rooms in the al-Rashid
hotel, and tanks returned fire with their main guns and .50 caliber
The New Presidential Palace showed the effects of recent U.S.-led
bombing. Even so, once inside, Americans found creature comforts
undreamed of in a country where more than half the population is
dependent on international food assistance.
Beneath the dust, the imitation French Baroque furniture was
painted gold. The palace had numerous swimming pools, and troops
rifled through documents and helped themselves to ashtrays, pillows,
gold-painted Arab glassware and other souvenirs of war.
The palace had been stripped of most personal items, but the
building boasted a sophisticated audio-video system. Troops looking
in one cabinet found a collection of pirated movies, "Les
Miserables" among them.
On a parade grounds nearby, GIs cheered as a statue of Saddam on
horseback was toppled.
At sundown, some troops carried a television from the palace,
plugged it into a portable generator and mocked the Iraqi state-run
broadcast. "That looks awfully like the Taliban to me," said one
unidentified soldier, watching a segment of an old man, wearing a
turban and clutching an assault rifle.
It's not clear how many Iraqis have been hurt or killed in
Baghdad. The International Committee of the Red Cross said Sunday
that hospitals in the city have stopped counting the number of
Americans have twice been victimized by suicide bombers, and
among the newly dead was an old Iraqi man. Disoriented and alone, he
moved ahead with aid of his cane despite three warning shots. "After
you give the final warning shot, shoot them dead," an officer
ordered. The rifleman did.
|U.S. Army Spc. Harrison Grimes
from A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, walks
past the damaged model of the Saddam Hussein palace he is
searching, after a bombing in Baghdad Monday, April 7, 2003.
(AP Photo/John Moore)|
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