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April 5, 2003

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U.S. Gives Baghdad Taste of War to Come
At Baghdad's Gates, Furious Fighting and Absent Iraqis as U.S. Forces Make Run Into City

The Associated Press

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NEAR BAGHDAD, Iraq April 5

U.S. forces plunged a dagger into the capital city on Saturday, sweeping through industrial neighborhoods with tanks and armored vehicles and offering Saddam Hussein's loyalists a taste of things to come.

The quick, early morning foray through Baghdad's southwest quadrant was resisted by individual fighters with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

The Americans took no territory; the aim, according to U.S. officials, was to send a message to regime loyalists that the city could be breached at any time of the coalition's choosing.

The New York Times, on its Web site, and Fox News quoted U.S. officials as saying at least 1,000 Iraqis and one U.S. soldier were killed. The U.S. Central Command at Doha, Qatar said it had no reports of casualties.

Greg Kelly, a reporter for Fox News embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division, said Iraqi vehicles played a game of chicken with the Americans, speeding toward them at speeds of 80 mph or more before they were dispatched with U.S. firepower.

The U.S. forces 26 M-1 tanks and 10 Bradley armored vehicles with the 3rd Infantry's 2nd brigade lost one tank and an armored vehicle, but the Iraqis lost many more, reported National Public Radio's Ann Garrells from Baghdad.

The air bombardment of Baghdad, meanwhile, did not slacken. Warplanes dropped laser-guided bombs on tanks, artillery and Republican Guard buildings.

Pilots said the air over Baghdad has become congested with coalition planes and they are more worried about crashing into one another than about being hit by the city's air defenses, which they can generally avoid.

"You have to keep your eyeballs out for the other guys," said Lt. Cmdr. John Enfield, an F/A-18 Hornet pilot aboard the carrier USS Kitty Hawk in the Persian Gulf.

The destruction caused from the air and on the ground was everywhere to see. Marine casualty and evacuation helicopters flew over crumpled bodies, charred tanks, collapsed buildings and a burning date tree forest.

The pilots of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 flew on repeated missions to Baghdad's outskirts, picking up war wounded and taking them to emergency medical centers to the south.

One helicopter carried a 5-year-old boy whose face had been blown away by shrapnel. His father, wounded in the shoulder, held the IV as the Marines loaded them both on the helicopter. On another run, six Iraqis were evacuated. When a Marine cut open the clothes of one, he exposed a military uniform underneath.

There was fighting all over the Iraqi map on Saturday. To the south, coalition aircraft struck the villa of Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majid known as "Chemical Ali" for ordering a poison gas attack that killed thousands of Kurds in 1988.

To the north, Americans supporting Kurdish fighters took up positions in the no-man's-land south of the Kurdish autonomous region.

A U.S. military official speaking on condition of anonymity said several unspecified objectives had been seized on the north and northwest edge of the Baghdad.

To the south, just over a mile from the city line, Marines with bayonets struggled in the reeds to subdue a force of foreign fighters, mostly Jordanians, Egyptians and Sudanese who had been "given a rifle and told to become a martyr," said Lt. Col. B.P. McCoy, commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines.

"It's just a matter of fighting them, killing them," McCoy said.

In 106 degree temperatures, amid the smoke of trenches of oil set afire by the Iraqis, Marines pressed past clusters of refugees on foot, begging for water. Bodies of Iraqi fighters were scattered along the road; at one point, Marines said they came across four seemingly lifeless men who suddenly came to life, fighting.

As other Marine units advanced north, Iraqi civilian vehicles fled south, packed with bundles and bearing improvised white flags made from torn-up towels or T-shirts.

Thirty-five miles southeast of the city, at Suwaurah, two tank companies and an infantry company of the 3rd Infantry Division rolled unopposed through the headquarters of the Republican Guard's Medina Division. They passed hundreds of bunkers and foxholes and dozens of artillery pieces, anti-aircraft gun, tanks and armored personnel carriers all abandoned.

Hundreds of young men in civilian clothes waved as U.S. troops drove by members of the Republican Guard who had tossed away their uniforms, the Americans believed. Inside, they found a memo with an elaborate border around it and instructions on how to deal with the U.S. attack.

First: "don't panic, don't act stupidly."

Like much of the military activity around Baghdad, the move on the Medina Division headquarters appeared aimed at preventing Republican Guard forces from regrouping to the rear of coalition troops, so they could focus on Baghdad in coming days.

Other troops with the 3rd Infantry Division engaged Republican Guard fighters southwest of Baghdad, moving toward the guard's barracks from Baghdad's international airport. They were met with resistance from small ammunition arms and snipers.

"We're defending the airport from the movement, coming into Baghdad, and basically we're searching and attacking up the road," battalion commander Lt. Col. Scott Rutter told APTN.

U.S. forces shored up their control of the airport itself, storming the main commercial facility, which consists of three terminals and a parking garage. The facility appeared to have been abandoned some time ago. Commanders posted 24 hour guards at the airport duty-free shop, to prevent any looting of alcohol.

Major Gen. Gene Renuart of the U.S. Central Command said officials expected to have one of the airport's two runways operational "very rapidly."

photo credit and caption:
Company Commander Cpt. Chris Carter, from Watkinsville, Ga., left, and his men from A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment pose for photos with the sign from the Iraqi Army Medina Division headquarters south of Baghdad Saturday, April 5, 2003. The Army took over the compound Saturday, which had been heavily bombed by the U.S. Air Force and abandoned by Iraqi forces.(AP Photo/John Moore)

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

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