TIKRIT, Iraq April 14 —
U.S. Marines overran loyalists staging a last stand Monday at
Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, ending the major combat phase
of the Iraq war.
Saddam's presidential palace was seized without a fight, the
military said, and large numbers of U.S. troops were in central
Tikrit by Monday afternoon.
"There was less resistance than we anticipated," said Brig. Gen.
Vincent Brooks, U.S. Central Command spokesman, noting that Tikrit
defenders had been subjected to airstrikes for several days. He said
Marines attacked Tikrit from the south, west and north, capturing a
key Tigris River bridge in the center of town.
Massive explosions, billowing smoke and flashes of light could be
seen and heard from Tikrit late Monday. "I think that's a city going
down," said Capt. Christopher Aaby, 33, of Menominee, Mich.
U.S. forces had suspected about 2,500 holdouts from the
Republican Guard and the paramilitary Saddam's Fedayeen and possibly
officials from the Iraqi president's regime were holed up in the
city, 90 miles north of Baghdad.
By late afternoon, however, people began to venture from homes
and walk in the streets, with families and children enjoying a
beautiful spring afternoon. Shops remained closed. There were no
reports of looting.
North of the city, Brig. Gen. John Kelly of the 1st Marine
Division, commander of the Tikrit operation, said Tikrit was "the
heartland of the beast," the beast being Saddam.
"If you were a committed regime ... guy, I guess you'd come
here," he said.
Describing a pattern in cities taken over by coalition troops,
Kelly said Tikrit was no different.
"It was a ghost town when we first arrived," he said. "Then they
(residents) start sticking their noses out and approaching us and
start pointing out where Baathists are, and the Fedayeen and the
caches of weapons."
Baathists are members of Saddam's Baath Party.
Some Marines in the streets on Monday were wearing pink flowers
on their uniforms, peace offerings from neighborhood residents.
Unlike other major cities, however, many portraits, banners and
statues of Saddam remained undamaged.
Abdul al-Jabouri, part of a large group of men gathered at a gas
station, said: "We like Saddam Hussein and he has educated our
people and we will support him to the end."
But another man approached and said, "Long live the United
Some Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard forces
abandoned their equipment in recent days, said Capt. Frank Thorp, a
Central Command spokesman.
He said U.S. forces to the south and west of the city had created
checkpoints to prevent regime leaders from escaping. He said initial
fighting had been fierce, but there was no information on
At a checkpoint in the north of the city, U.S. troops stopped and
searched vehicles, looking for weapons.
One Arab resident said he was carrying three Kalashnikov rifles
in his pickup truck because he was afraid of looting. A Marine shook
his head in disbelief.
Asked where all the Baathists were, taxi driver Jamal Ahmad said,
"they disappeared, they evaporated."
Marine First Lt. Greg Starace of Paramus N.J., said his unit
entered the city just after dawn Sunday and estimated at least 3,000
American troops were now in Tikrit. Tanks and Humvees rumbled
through, and a line of armored vehicles was parked in front of a
"As soon as we got here we had some engagements against some
small pockets of resistance," he said.
The morning combat came after a night of heavy bombing and after
Marines made several forays in and out of the city Sunday, drawing
occasional small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
But, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said there was "no
organized resistance" in Tikrit.
"A lot of people have disappeared, including the leadership of
the Baath party," Rumsfeld told MSNBC on Sunday. "There are people
(in Tikrit) who do not have a lot of admiration for the Baathist
regime ... who are helping" the Americans."
The Arab TV network Al-Jazeera reported that tribal groups in
Tikrit offered to negotiate peace with U.S. forces and hand over
some Baath party leaders in town.
|U. S. marines look for
resistance as they secure an area in Tikrit, Iraq Monday April
14, 2003. (AP Photo/Kevin
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