WASHINGTON April 7 —
American troops pressed the point again Monday with raids into
Iraq's capital: They can move in and out of Baghdad at will.
For the third time in as many days, an Army column roared into
the heart of the Iraqi capital, this time storming Saddam Hussein's
newest palace and briefly surrounding the Information Ministry and
the Al-Rashid, probably the city's best known hotel. And this time,
Marines joined in the incursion, coming at the city in a strike to
the east of the Army force.
The show of massive force is part of a plan to eliminate
resistance from Saddam's forces piece by piece, in hopes of avoiding
an all-out battle for Baghdad, home to some 5 million Iraqis.
At the Pentagon, senior defense officials said the assault was
meant to demonstrate that invading troops can go where they want,
when they want.
They said it was not an effort to occupy the city, or even a
piece of it. Rather, it is a message to Iraqi forces that their
resistance is futile, one official said. To the population, it can
serve to counterbalance regime propaganda, in which officials
continued to insist Monday morning that they were repelling invading
One difference in the latest thrust into the capital, following
forays Saturday and Sunday, is that Americans might stay a bit
longer, one official said, adding it might be a matter of hours, not
days. Officials stressed that the commander on the ground had the
ability and mobility to decide what he will do next move around the
area, or move along.
"I think ... the military commanders will slowly but surely take
on various parts of the city, go in and clean it out and make it
safe for the Iraqi civilians that want to live there," Marine Gen.
Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said
hours before Monday's assault.
On Sunday, troops began flying into the captured international
airport outside Baghdad, destroyed a Republican Guard headquarters
and began to deploy a force of Iraqi exiles and dissidents who are
to make up the core of a new national army.
U.S. soldiers and Marines surrounded Baghdad to try to prevent
regime leaders from getting out and Iraqi troops reinforcements from
getting in, Pace said in a round of television interviews Sunday. He
acknowledged it wasn't "an impenetrable cordon" around the city.
"It is certainly true that we have huge amounts of combat power
around the city right now, and that we have over a thousand planes
in the air every day," he said. "So if it moves on the ground and it
takes aggressive action, it's going to get killed."
Asked what tactic commanders planned in the coming battle to
unseat Saddam, he said it was essentially more of the same but in a
Air power will shape the battlefield and destroy Iraqi forces and
equipment; ground troops will force Iraqi fighters to move, then air
strikes will attack again, Pace said.
"They feed on each other," he said. "It is similar tactics, air
and ground coordination, but in a much more confined space."
He said the airlift of several hundred soldiers from the
opposition Iraqi National Congress brought people who could help
fight the regime.
INC officials said the force also could help distribute
humanitarian aid, serve as a bridge between coalition troops and
local populations and help root out paramilitaries who have been
fighting U.S.-led forces and terrorizing civilians.
U.S. Central Command reported that 2,000 to 3,000 Iraqi fighters
were killed in the first thrust a sweep Saturday by the 3rd Infantry
Division through the city's southwestern industrial section.
So far, Pace said, coalition forces have destroyed two Republican
Guard divisions that were guarding approaches to the capital and
half of the tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers of the
country's other four divisions. Divisions that numbered between
6,000 and 12,000 men each, now probably can put together only about
1,000 people in any one location at any time, he said.
"But that does not mean they're finished," he said. "There's
still fight left in them, potentially, and there's still a potential
for a more difficult combat before this is finished."
Contacts continue with Iraqi commanders to try to get them to
surrender, including "letters directly from" U.S. war commander Gen.
Tommy Franks, Pace said. "But as of yet, we have not had a senior
official in these divisions and corps surrender."
Official have said American forces might stop short of storming
Baghdad and instead isolate it while the makings of a new national
government are put in place. They have described the plan as neither
an all-out fight for the city, as many have predicted, nor a
Over time, the thinking goes, Saddam and his inner circle would
completely lose their ability to communicate with their remaining
military forces, and would be unable to control anything except
their own defenses.
Meanwhile leafleting and broadcasts to Iraqi troops and civilians
would keep sending the message that the invading force not Saddam is
in control, further weakening support for the regime.
Although the main coalition force remains outside the city, the
regime is still vulnerable to special operations troops inside the
capital who are hunting for leadership figures, pointing out bombing
targets and possibly persuading Iraqi soldiers not to fight.
|U.S. Marines of the 3rd
batallion, 4th regiment, walk past the body of a dead Iraqi,
after they secured a key bridge leading into Baghdad in the
outskirts of the Iraqi capital, Monday, April 7, 2003. (AP
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