Raid rattles Baghdad's core

U.S. official says hundreds of Iraqis killed in fighting

`Exclamation point' of strength

Bush, Blair to discuss creating rival government

War in Iraq

April 06, 2003|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - An armored American column roared into Baghdad in broad daylight yesterday in a brief, bold and violent show of force against the heart of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Dozens of U.S. M1A1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles looped down highways fringed with palm trees through the southwestern quadrant of the capital, killing more than 1,000 Iraqis in a series of firefights, according to one American commander, before withdrawing from the city.

As they traveled a roughly 20-mile route in the city, much of it through lightly populated areas, elements of the 3rd Infantry met pockets of fierce resistance, according to U.S. officials. Iraqi defenders fired heavy artillery, and paramilitary fighters tried to drive civilian vehicles into the advancing U.S. convoy. From positions along the roadside, Republican Guard troops, regular soldiers and paramilitaries fired machine guns and small arms.

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption on Page 1A yesterday misidentified a military vehicle that had been destroyed in Baghdad. The vehicle was an Iraqi armored personnel carrier.
The Sun regrets the error.

At least one U.S. soldier was killed and one U.S. tank destroyed before the Americans pulled back to the area around the city's international airport, where Iraqi attacks continued against American forces occupying the field, including suicide assaults.

The early-morning offensive into the Iraqi capital appeared to be designed, at least in part, for psychological effect - an assault at the nerve center of Hussein's regime and a counter to Iraqi claims that they still control the city, U.S officials said.

It also began to prepare the way for the United States to establish an interim government in Iraq as a rival to Hussein's. The subject of an interim government will be discussed tomorrow when President Bush and his main ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, meet in Northern Ireland.

"The message" of yesterday's thrust into Baghdad was to put "an exclamation point" on the growing strength of American troops in and around the city, said Maj. Gen. Gene Renuart Jr., operations director at U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar. "It was a very clear statement to the Iraqi regime, as well, that we can move at times and places of our choosing, even into their capital city."

The Centcom spokesman took care to warn, however, that the war "is far from over" and that the fighting in Baghdad is "far from finished."

Terrified Baghdad residents fled the stifling city. Electricity was restored to some neighborhoods yesterday, but power was still reported to be cut to most of the city.

U.S. officials, who have feared causing a refugee crisis, said the flow of residents leaving Baghdad remained manageable. But roads heading north out of the city were reported jammed with tens of thousands of people in vehicles filled with food rations, water and personal belongings, and on the roads to the south young men in civilian clothes were walking toward the countryside.

As night fell, black-clad militias and uniformed soldiers guarded intersections in the center of the city. Once again, the sounds of American bombardments could be heard, though fewer than at the height of the air campaign.

Lt. Gen T. Michael Moseley, commander of the U.S.-led air forces in Iraq, said that the Republican Guard, some of Hussein's best-trained troops, "doesn't really exist anymore" around Baghdad after being battered for two weeks by a combination of ground and air attacks.

Moseley, who spoke by phone with reporters at the Pentagon from his command post in Saudi Arabia, said the air campaign had moved into a new phase that would emphasize round-the-clock support for ground operations inside Baghdad, using combat aircraft and unmanned drones.

Iraq's government continued to maintain that no U.S. forces were near the capital. An Iraqi military statement, read on satellite television, said an American advance on Baghdad had been repulsed. "We were able to chop off their rotten heads," the statement said.

Mohammed Said Sahaf, Iraq's information minister, said that American forces had been "butchered" by Iraqi defenders at the Baghdad airport and that video footage of U.S. forces routing Iraqi troops just outside Baghdad was fabrication.

Sahaf read a new statement in Hussein's name, calling on Iraqis to intensify their efforts to defeat the "lost and shocked" American invaders.

With the war now in its 18th day, U.S. forces are continuing to build up in and around Baghdad. But they have yet to move in large numbers into northern Iraq, including Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, which is still being guarded by Republican Guard units.

At the same time, most cities in southern Iraq have yet to fall to U.S.-led forces, including Basra, the second-largest city in the country. A standoff there between mainly British troops and the paramilitary militias and other forces loyal to the governing Baath Party is now in its third week.

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