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Iraq War News Roundup

April 5, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: Seventeen days after the first bombs fell on Baghdad, U.S. ground troops entered the city in broad daylight. The Americans entered the Iraqi capital in a caravan of more than 30 tanks, armored personnel carriers, and trucks. Once inside the city, U.S. soldiers with the third infantry division quickly came under fire from Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards. U.S. troops returned the fire from M-1 Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. Officials at central command headquarters said the advance into the city was a show of force.

MAJ. GEN. VICTOR RENUART: It was, I think, a clear statement of the ability of the coalition forces to move into Baghdad at times and places of their choosing, and to establish their presence really wherever they need to in the city, and those kinds of operations, I believe, will continue.

TERENCE SMITH: The foray by the third infantry came from the southwest into the center of the city, and turned west near a bend in the Tigris River, and headed towards the airport. In a second column, the marines first expeditionary force, also coming from the southwestern suburbs, took on Republican Guard troops holed up in their barracks.

On the other side of Baghdad, another group of marines closed in from the southeast on a different division of Republican Guard troops. Some of them surrendered. American soldiers frantically signaled to this man to show he had no weapons. He removed his gas mask and then lay down as instructed. Another man emerged from the bushes with his hands up. Both men wore the green trousers of the Republican Guard. The fighting was heavy, but U.S. military officials have not yet released casualty numbers. One American tank was destroyed, though its crew reportedly escaped. Still, Iraqi fighters celebrated their trophy.

Meanwhile, the roads outside Baghdad were littered with burned-out hulks of Iraqi military vehicles. In the city itself, there was rubble everywhere. Iraqi soldiers were positioned among the palm trees, manning heavy artillery, as were civilian militia. More bombs hit Baghdad again last night. Among the targets: The police headquarters and a telephone exchange.

Late today, an explosion was heard very near the Palestine Hotel, where many foreign journalists are staying. U.S. warplanes are now flying round-the-clock missions over Baghdad to provide air cover for a full-scale ground attack. The newly renamed Baghdad International Airport is now firmly in American hands, according to U.S. officials. Soldiers there cleared abandoned buildings and underground tunnels. But the Iraqi information minister put a different spin on the airport capture:

MOHAMMED SAEED AL-SAHAF: We crushed the forces in Saddam international airport, and we cleaned the whole place of the airport by our Republican Guard. Now the Republican Guard is in full control of Saddam International Airport.

TERENCE SMITH: In the town of Suwayrah, 35 miles south of Baghdad third infantry soldiers destroyed the headquarters of the Republican Guard’s Medina Division and captured its leader. John Daniszewski of the Los Angeles Times is in Baghdad. I talked with him a short time ago, and asked him what it was like in the capital after the American incursion this morning.

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, I think it’s been sort of a decision day for many people here in Baghdad. People are deciding whether they want to stay in the city with this battle now just around the corner, or whether it would be better to take flight. And tens of thousands of people have been streaming out of the capital in the direction of the north or the west, trying to get away to protect their… children and… and hoping to avoid the war which now seems to be right… actually in the city. At the same time, the authorities are gearing up for a battle, and are bringing troops into the city and heavy armor for the first time. And for the first time today, we’ve seen some of those Fedayeen Saddam — the people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for Saddam in their all-black uniforms.

TERENCE SMITH: Are you… or were you and ordinary Iraqi civilians in Baghdad aware that there were U.S. forces entering the city from the south this morning?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, it happened very early around 6:00 in the morning. They came in from the south and I got involved in a fire fight in the area known as Dor. It’s one of the southern suburbs. So most people were not aware of it when they were… when it was going on, except those people who lived in the immediate vicinity, but rumors or news of it spread by word of mouth during the day.

TERENCE SMITH: Were you able to get out and see any of it or of the aftermath?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, I did see some of the aftermath. There were quite a few burnt and twisted, blackened vehicles strewn on the road near a highway overpass — some APC’s, a tank, a tanker. It looked like one of these Toyotas with… with machine guns mounted. So there were these burnt vehicles there, and lots of people will drive by that road. So a lot of people saw them.

TERENCE SMITH: These were Iraqi vehicles?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Yeah, they were Iraqi vehicles, as far as I know.

TERENCE SMITH: Then… and during the day, were Iraqi civilians aware that Americans had actually been inside the city limits, even for a short time?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Yeah. People learned of it… I think on occasion, these decisions to leave or contribute to these decisions to leave. But I think also they heard the reports coming from Qatar that the U.S. had come into the heart of the city. And people thought that was a little bit exaggerated driving around. They didn’t see any troops at all in the city except for that brief incursion this morning.

TERENCE SMITH: What’s the situation so far as you know at the airport? The U.S. forces say they control it; the Iraqi information minister said, no, that’s not so, the Iraqis control it. Do you know the facts?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, I think our newspaper has some embedded reporters who are there. So I think there’s no doubt that the U.S. forces are at the airport still. The information minister promised at various times to take reporters out to the airport to prove that Iraqis had control of it, but they never did. So I think now the balance of truth is on the coalition side.

TERENCE SMITH: And John, you mentioned a moment ago that there are… you can see the Republican Guard and Fedayeen forces and others preparing visibly for a defense of the city?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Yeah, I think… it’s a pretty ominous sign because I think they really do mean to make this an urban war. And the fact that they’re bringing heavy armaments into the city is indicative of that.

TERENCE SMITH: And what do you see? Do you see them assembling at corners or at strong points?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Well, we were… we were taken on one of these bus trips today, and we saw tanks rumbling down the street, uncolored, soviet-manufactured tanks. Also at various parts of the city, you can see artillery pieces being set up and machine gun nests and things like that.

TERENCE SMITH: Finally, John, we understand and heard about a big explosion near the Palestine Hotel. I wonder if you know what that was, and whether anyone… any of the foreign journalists or anyone in the hotel was hurt?

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: No, nobody in the hotel was hurt. It was a… it was a big blast and it shook the building closer than most of the explosions we’ve been feeling these past few weeks. The target seemed to be a police station near here.

TERENCE SMITH: Okay, John Daniszewski, the Los Angeles Times, thanks so much and please take care of yourself.

JOHN DANISZEWSKI: Thank you, Terry.

TERENCE SMITH: In Nasiriyah, U.S. Military officials confirmed that eight bodies found in a hospital were American soldiers. That’s the same hospital where Private Jessica Lynch was rescued earlier this week. One of the eight soldiers was a native American and the first American woman killed in this war. She was 23-year-old private Lori Ann Pesitawa. A U.S. Cobra attack helicopter crashed in central Iraq today. Two marine pilots were killed. U.S. officials at central command said the cause of the crash was under investigation, but did not appear to be the result of hostile fire. In southern Iraq, British forces continued their two-week effort to put down resistance in the key city of Basra. We have a report from Juliet Bremmer of Independent Television News.

JULIET BREMMER: Dominating the city gates to Basra: Saddam Hussein and his henchmen still claim to control this southern port, but the British want to send a powerful, symbolic message. Soldiers are here to tear down the regime and all it stands for. (Gunfire) By the time they leave Iraq, they’re determined Saddam and his Ba’ath Party will have bitten the dust. The approach can seem frustratingly slow, but day by day, the desert rats are exerting more control, checkpoints meant to filter out Iraqi hard-liners. They’re well within striking distance of the mortars and rockets of the Fedayeen militia, but they’re prepared to take that risk to try and persuade the people of Basra that they won’t desert them, that they’ll stick with this however messy it gets. ( Gunfire ) Drastic action is needed to convince a dubious population.

SPOKESMAN: Get down! Get down! ( Gunfire )

JULIET BREMMER: We watched a nighttime raid on the homes of Ba’ath Party officials and Fedayeen militia. These are men singled out by locals, and believed by army intelligence to be behind much of the brutality and corruption. Most are not accused of specific crimes, but suspected of being part of the state-sponsored climate of fear.

SPOKESMAN: Break! Come on! Get up!

JULIET BREMMER: The party’s influence extends to every corner of Iraqi society. In two small communities, we witnessed more than 70 people being rounded up. Some are clearly terrified of what lies ahead, uncertain of their fate, overcome by nerves. But as it ended, there was no British apology for the scale of the operation.

MAJOR PAUL NANSON, British Army: We came in firm, we came in fair. There were no shots fired. We gave a good warning before we came in. We’ve been playing warnings to people to stay in there houses, and we’ve only lifted those people who we’ve got very good intelligence on.

JULIET BREMMER: This is not a tactic that can be regularly repeated or the British risk being accused of installing their own rule of terror. Despite the discomfort of a few, there’s a conviction that this is a night’s work that will benefit the majority.

TERENCE SMITH: Also in Basra today, two coalition aircraft targeted the home of the Iraqi general known as “Chemical Ali.” Ali Hassan al-Majeed is a cousin of Saddam Hussein and commander of Iraq’s southern forces. It was not known if he was home at the time of the attack. He earned his nickname for ordering gas attacks that killed thousands of Kurds in 1988. The official U.S. death toll in the war grew to 79 today. That number now includes six confirmed deaths from the downing of an army Blackhawk helicopter on Wednesday near Karbala, but it does not include the two marines killed earlier today in a Cobra helicopter crash. Eight U.S. troops remain missing, and seven are captured. The British death toll remains at 27. Iraq did not update its most recent estimates of more than 1,200 civilians dead and more than 5,000 injured. Ray.