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April 7, 2003
A U.S. tank guards one of Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad after coalition soldiers took over key government buildings. (John Moore/AP Photo)
Storming Baghdad
U.S. Forces Raid Saddam’s Palace; Report Says ‘Chemical Ali’ Killed

B A G H D A D, Iraq, April 7 — U.S. forces have blasted through the heart of Baghdad, raiding key Iraqi government buildings, including one of Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces.

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In what the U.S. military called a "show of force" aimed at proving their ability to move at will through strategic parts of the city, troops entered a luxury palace used by Saddam, blew up a huge statue of the Iraqi leader and surrounded the Information Ministry and al Rashid hotel on the western banks of the Tigris River.

The raid came as a British military official told The Associated Press that Ali Hassan al-Majid, who is known as "Chemical Ali" and is one of the most brutal members of Saddam's inner circle, was killed in his house in the southern city of Basra.

Maj. Andrew Jackson of the British 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment said Majid — Saddam's cousin and the man widely held responsible for a 1988 poison gas attack on the Kurds in northern Iraq — was killed by a coalition airstrike.

In Baghdad, more than 70 tanks and 60 Bradley fighting vehicles of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division rumbled into the heart of the city accompanied by close air support.

Reporting from the eastern banks of the Tigris, ABCNEWS' Richard Engel said the U.S. raid into central Baghdad was met with scattered Iraqi resistance and residents in the city could hear machine gun fire, explosions and automatic rifle fire.

"The conflict has started coming right close into Baghdad," said Engel. "It certainly seems to be spiraling in toward the city."

Explosions could still be heard around the city, especially on the western front, said Engel.

In the midst of the raid, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf held a news conference in Baghdad, where he denied that U.S. tanks and troops had entered into the heart of the city.

"The infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of Baghdad," he said. "God has given victory to the soldiers and Iraq."

  • Click here for interactive map of Baghdad.

While recent U.S. raids into downtown Baghdad have been dubbed "thunder run" missions, U.S. military officials today said there was no broad policy on U.S. troops withdrawing or retaining their positions in downtown Baghdad.

At a U.S. Central Command news briefing in Doha, Qatar, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said U.S. commanders on the field would make "tactical decisions" on "what parts of Baghdad they wish to retain control of."

Casualties on Both Sides

But the military gains were accompanied by losses on both sides.

U.S. forces report finding a possible Iraqi chemical weapons storage site, after initial field tests were positive for sarin nerve agent.

U.S. forces roll through central Baghdad, seizing one of Saddam Hussein's palaces and briefly surrounding the Iraqi information ministry.

British troops take control over much of Basra, while residents go on looting rampage around parts of the southern Iraqi city.

U.S. commander Gen. Tommy Franks visits coalition troops in three locations in Iraq.

An Iraqi artillery shell hits a U.S. Army tactical operations center outside Baghdad, killing six and wounding six others, U.S. officials said.

British forces near Basra say they found the body of "Chemical Ali," the Iraqi commander responsible for killing thousands of Kurds in 1988.

According to U.S. military sources, six U.S. soldiers were killed and six others wounded when a U.S. Army tactical operations center was hit by an artillery shell on southern fringes of Baghdad.

And in a friendly fire incident along the eastern route into Baghdad, two U.S. Marines were killed and two others wounded during a battle to gain control of two bridges, according to Reuters.

On the Iraqi side, the number of civilian casualties in Baghdad were so high that overwhelmed local hospitals stopped keeping count, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

Looting in Basra

Outside Baghdad, coalition troops were gradually seeking to establish control in parts of northern and southern Iraq.

U.S.ground forces stormed into downtown Baghdad as coalition troops secure towns and cities across Iraq. (Updated 9:30 pm, April 6

In the southern city of Basra, British ground troops, accompanied by air support, stormed into the heart of the city toward a densely populated neighborhood in the old section of the city, where pockets of resistance still exist in the narrow lanes and by-lanes.

But there were widespread incidents of looting in areas of the city that had fallen into coalition control.

Reporting from Basra, ABCNEWS' John Donvan said residents of Iraq's second city were stripping a prison and a university campus, despite calls from local clerics to desist from looting.

"At the university, people were coming out with computers, posters, rugs, papers," said Donvan. "When we asked them why, their answer was, 'because we have nothing.'"

British troops meanwhile were continuing to move into Basra, said Donvan, focusing on securing the city.

British military officials said they believe a body found in at the residence of "Chemical Ali" following a coalition airstrike on Saturday was that of Saddam's notorious cousin.

Al-Majid is widely held responsible for the deaths of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq under Operation Anfal in 1998.

But U.S. military officials said they could not confirm the report. "We have no confirmed report on the condition of the man referred to as Chemical Ali," said Brooks.

Report: Missiles Equipped With Chemical Weapons Found

South of Baghdad, U.S. news station National Public Radio reported that U.S. troops had found a cache of around 20 medium-range missiles equipped with deadly sarin and mustard gases.

Quoting a "top official" with the 1st Marine Division, NPR said the BM-21 missiles were equipped with the deadly gases and were "ready to fire."

U.S. Central Command officials in Qatar have refused to comment on the report, saying only that there had been no "extraordinary finds" of chemical weapons in Iraq so far.

Iraq has maintained that it does not possess chemical or biological weapons.

Over the weekend, U.S. soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division had discovered two sites near the central city of Karbala with suspicious materials, said ABCNEWS' Don Dahler, embedded with the 101st.

At one of the sites, believed to be a paramilitary training facility, gas masks and antidotes for chemical weapons were discovered in a room.

It was in one of those rooms that some of the soldiers became nauseous and developed an apparent skin rash about 24 hours after the discovery, said Dahler.

And at a nearby warehouse, troops also uncovered a dozen large drums of what looked like chemicals, most labeled as pesticides. Wires running into a bunker containing more drums indicated the possibility of booby traps.

Airlifting Opposition Figures Into Iraq

Meanwhile, an Iraqi National Congress official told The Associated Press that Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the London-based Iraqi opposition group, had arrived in the southern Iraq city of Nassiriyah at the head of about 700 opposition fighters.

Earlier today, U.S. officials confirmed that U.S. military planes had airlifted the Iraqi exiles and dissidents into southern and central Iraq in recent days.

An INC statement released on the weekend said the 700 opposition fighters would serve under the commander of the invasion, U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks, to help overthrow Saddam's regime.

"They will also take part in delivering humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people and maintaining law, order and stability in areas already liberated," the statement said.

At the news briefing in Qatar today, Brooks confirmed the coalition cooperation with the INC and described the operations as "ongoing."

"It should come as no surprise that the INC wants to see a different Iraq," said Brooks. But he refused to confirm reports that Chalabi had also been airlifted into southern Iraq.

ABCNEWS' Richard Engel in Baghdad, John Donvan in southern Iraq, John McWethy at the Pentagon, and Don Dahler with the Army's 101st Airborne Division in Iraq contributed to this report.

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