U.S. troops inside Baghdad

Patrols and tanks enter city on reconnaissance

fighting goes on at airport

8 dead at hospital are Americans

Iraqi officials try to rally resistance

tape shows Hussein walking in city

War In Iraq

April 05, 2003|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - For the first time in the war, U.S. ground troops and armor entered Baghdad this morning on what was described as a reconnaissance mission, U.S. military officials said.

While the Army troops slowly went street to street in search of Iraqi fighters, accompanied by tanks, the bulk of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division maintained control of the main airport near Baghdad against a small counterattack, officials said.

Military officials at the Pentagon confirmed that the infantry troops were not the main force of an invasion. Some of the units later left the city to move farther south to conduct search-and-destroy missions against Republican Guard forces.

The soldiers were moving in what U.S. officials described as a "strategic fashion" consistent with "possible urban warfare." They moved street by street, "attacking and cleansing" before moving on, the officials said.

The Pentagon also announced today that eight dead soldiers found during the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch were members of her 507th Maintenance Company. The unit, based at Fort Bliss, Texas, was ambushed March 23.

The U.S. commandos who freed Lynch from a hospital in Nasiriyah this week also found 11 bodies, nine of which were believed to be those of Americans. Those bodies have been returned to a forensics center at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

There was no immediate word on whether the soldiers were killed in the ambush or afterward.

With Marines to the southeast also pressing toward the capital to impose a "choke hold" on President Saddam Hussein's seat of power, thousands of residents have begun streaming out of Baghdad.

Other, much larger elements of the 3rd Infantry that earlier took Saddam International Airport fought skirmishes with Iraqi soldiers throughout yesterday and into this morning. At dawn, they still held the airport, which the coalition renamed Baghdad International Airport, but the Iraqi resistance had not been put down.

"Coalition forces are currently engaged with the enemy," an official at Central Command announced. Pressed for details, the official said, "Let's just say they're fighting hard to get back what they lost."

Panicked residents fled northward from the city throughout yesterday to escape whatever battle might loom, even as firefights raged throughout the Iraqi war zone. U.S. military officials worried that power outages and rising tension in the city could lead to water shortages and a humanitarian crisis.

Iraqi officials urged troops and civilians to lash out against the invading force. Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf warned of "unconventional" attacks against American forces.

Later, he said he meant "creative" suicide operations and guerrilla-style attacks, not the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Journalists reported seeing Iraqi equipment, tents and military uniforms strewn for miles along the roads to Baghdad, possibly from Iraqi soldiers who abandoned their posts or retreated into the city to gird for a fight.

That raised concerns that elements of the Republican Guard had chosen to avoid fighting coalition forces in the open and were instead massing in the city, preparing to defend against a U.S.-led attack.

Saddam Hussein appeared twice on Arab television, urging Iraqi citizens to resist. But it was not certain when the tape was made, or whether the man shown was indeed Hussein rather than a stand-in for the Iraqi leader.

In the first broadcast, he spoke of a U.S. Apache helicopter that crashed last week and hailed the "valiant Iraqi peasant" who claims to have shot down the aircraft. The second broadcast showed a seemingly relaxed Hussein wading through an exuberant crowd on the streets of Baghdad.

Both images raised fresh doubts about whether Hussein was killed on the first night of the war - a suspicion that U.S. officials had promoted.

"Whether it is him or it isn't him, the regime's days are numbered, and it doesn't really matter," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Many Iraqis were probably unable to watch the broadcasts, because much of Baghdad remained without electricity through the day. American military officials denied knocking out the power and said they were concerned that the lack of power might be disabling equipment that operates Baghdad's water system.

Yesterday U.S. military officials took the unusual step of removing a Marine unit's commander in the midst of the fighting after he was accused of showing too much caution in the drive toward Baghdad.

Col. Joe W. Dowdy, who had been commander of the 1st Marine Regiment, was informed that he would be reassigned to another position on the division staff, and was immediately replaced by Col. John Toolan, the 1st Marine Division's operations officer. Toolan hurried to the front and immediately took charge of a speeded-up drive to Baghdad. By this morning, the troops were closing in on the capital. Dowdy had been a popular commander, in part because he had taken pains to protect his troops, sometimes at the expense of speed.

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