BAGHDAD, Iraq April 7 —
American troops and tanks bore down on Baghdad with unstoppable
force Monday, seizing two of Saddam Hussein's opulent palaces and
bombing a building where the Iraqi leader and other regime officials
were believed to be staying.
A lone B-1B bomber carried out the strike on what U.S. officials
described as a "leadership target" senior Iraqi officials possibly
including Saddam and his two sons. It was not immediately clear
whether any of them were killed or wounded.
Earlier Monday, U.S. and British officials said they believed
Saddam's top commander in southern Iraq had been killed in a U.S.
The attacks came as American forces maneuvered through the
capital with near impunity.
Some Iraqi soldiers jumped into the Tigris River to flee the
advancing column of more than 100 armored vehicles. A dozen others
were captured and placed inside a hastily erected POW pen on the
grounds of the bombed-out, blue-and-gold-domed New Presidential
An estimated 600 to 1,000 Iraqi troops were killed during the
operation, said Col. David Perkins. "We had a lot of suicide
attackers today," he said. "These guys are going to die in droves
... They keep trying to ram the tanks with car bombs."
U.S. troops toppled a 40-foot statue of Saddam and seized another
of his many palaces, the Sojoud. Tank-killing A-10 Warthog planes
and pilotless drones provided air cover as Americans briefly
surrounded another prominent symbol of Saddam's power, the
Information Ministry, as well as the Al-Rashid hotel.
The attack on the leadership target reminiscent of the opening
volley of the war on March 19 aimed at Saddam occurred in Baghdad's
upscale Mansour neighborhood. U.S. officials, speaking on condition
of anonmymity, said American intelligence learned Monday morning of
a high-level meeting in Baghdad between senior Iraqi intelligence
officials and, possibly, Saddam and his two sons, Qusai and
The bombardment left a huge hole where the building had been and
reduced three adjoining houses to a heap of concrete, mangled iron
rods and furniture.
A B-1B bomber dropped four 2,000-pound bunker-penetrating bombs
on a residential building. "We are confirming that a leadership
target was indeed hit very hard," said Marine Maj. Brad Bartelt, a
spokesman for U.S. Central Command in Qatar. He had no information
of the results of the attack.
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
night at the sprawling, splendored New Presidential Palace where
Saddam once slept.
Several miles away, two soldiers and two journalists were killed
in a rocket attack on the 3rd Infantry Division south of Baghdad,
the U.S. Central Command reported. Another 15 soldiers were injured
in the attack on an infantry position south of the city.
On the other side of town, Marines encountered tough fighting as
they entered Baghdad for the first time, coming under machine gun
fire. Lt. Col. B.P. McCoy said two Marines were killed and two were
injured after an artillery shell hit their armored personnel
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.
Hours later, the sound of occasional American artillery split the
The regime, its brutal hold on a country of 24 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 its hold 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. Also shown were images of Saddam meeting with key
The American military flexed its muscle in downtown Baghdad while
British officials said one of the regime's most brutal leaders, Ali
Hassan al-Majid, had apparently been killed in a weekend airstrike
in the southern city of Basra.
A cousin of Saddam, al-Majid was dubbed "Chemical Ali" for
ordering a poison gas attack that killed thousands of Kurds in
Defense officials also said testing was under way on samples
taken from a site where soldiers found metal drums possibly
containing nerve gas or another type of chemical weapon. A local
commander said it was possible the substance was a pesticide, since
it was found at an agricultural site near Hindiyah, south of
After a two-week siege, British forces claimed control over
Basra, a city of 1.3 million. Hundreds of civilians, 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 appreciation.
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
the groundwork for an interim authority.
In the war zone, Americans felt confident enough for Gen. Tommy
Franks, overall commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom, to visit
troops in Najaf and elsewhere. The four-star general wore
camouflaged body armor and a black beret as his Black Hawk
helicopter carried him on his tour.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, said
all but "a couple of dozen" of the Iraqi military's tanks had been
destroyed in less than three weeks of combat.
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.
"We can basically go wherever we want, whenever we want, even if
Saddam is still alive," said Perkins, who commanded the Army troops
inside the city.
Missiles screamed overhead and explosions shook buildings inside
the city as more than 70 Army tanks, more than 60 Bradley fighting
vehicles and an estimated 3,000 troops pushed their way into the
heart of Baghdad.
Iraqi snipers fired on soldiers from rooms in the al-Rashid
hotel, and tanks returned fire with their main guns and .50-caliber
Across the river from the New Presidential Palace, Iraqis took up
positions around the University of Baghdad, firing heavy machine
guns across the 400-yard width of the Tigris River. Americans
responded with mortar fire and close air support to rout the
Chris Tomlinson reported from Baghdad; David Espo in Washington
contributed to this report.
|U.S. Army Sgt. Jose Rivera from
A Company 3rd Battalion 7th Infantry Regiment numbers Iraqi
prisoners at a temporary detention center at a bomb-damaged
presidential palace in Baghdad Monday, April 7, 2003. (AP
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