KWAME HOLMAN: Iraqi forces stood and fought in places, and were routed by American firepower. The Iraqi information minister promised the night would bring an "unconventional attack." Later, he said it would not be chemical or biological. Despite that threat, U.S. dominance of the battlefield was evident on the ground.
Today the road to the Baghdad looked like this: Burning trucks on the roadside, blown out Iraqi artillery units, and curious residents, here trading currency with American soldiers. Since Wednesday, U.S. forces have moved in on Baghdad from two directions. From the southwest, army units attacked the commercial airport, Saddam International, 12 miles from the city. (Explosion) The army third infantry reportedly captured the runways after a long battle, one that resulted in 320 Iraqis casualties according to U.S. Commanders. No Americans were injured.
LT. COL. SCOTT RUTTER: Hopefully this is a sign that we are able to send to the residents of Baghdad that we're here and they can rise up, deal with the regime appropriately.
KWAME HOLMAN: At central command in Qatar, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said controlling the airport has both tactical and symbolic significance.
BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: By dawn this morning, the coalition had seized the international airport west of Baghdad, formerly known as Saddam International Airport. The airport now has a new name: Baghdad International Airport, and it is the gateway to the future of Iraq.
KWAME HOLMAN: One goal of the airport assault was to cut off a possible escape route for Saddam Hussein's insiders.
SOLDIER: Our mission up here is to block the entrance from Baghdad. This is about as far east as you can get into the Baghdad proper city.
KWAME HOLMAN: Still, Brigadier General Brooks said the mission is ongoing, and U.S. Forces do not yet control the airport road from the capital, nor the facilities beneath the terminal.
BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: Those require clearance. It's an ongoing process. We don't know what we'll find there. There may in fact be someone to fight in those underground facilities. The work is ongoing. Until we are completely satisfied that there are no threats to the airport or at the airport, we will continue our efforts to ensure that security has been provided for. In the meantime, the force that's present there remains alert to a variety of things that still remain possibilities for the regime, whether it's the use of weapons of mass destruction or attacking forces to try to retake it. And we have seen some of those this morning, and it destroyed nearly all of them.
KWAME HOLMAN: Eventually, the U.S. plan calls for the army's 101st Airborne Division to use the airport for its helicopters as a base to establish control of Baghdad. The 101st is highly trained in urban warfare. Along the second prong of the U.S. advance to the southeast of Baghdad, the first marine division is moving up both banks of the Tigris River from the direction of Kut. The marines took hundreds of Iraqi soldiers prisoners along the way and reported little resistance today from Iraqi republican guards.
BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: The first marine expeditionary force continued its attack toward Baghdad, destroying remnants of the Baghdad republican guard division near al Kut, and elements of the al Nida Republican Guard division between al Kut and Baghdad. The attack continues.
KWAME HOLMAN: U.S. Marines say they're now on the southeastern outskirts of Baghdad. Inside Baghdad, day 16 of the campaign brought more U.S. Bombing and more local reports of civilian casualties.
OMEED MEDHAT MUBARAK, Minister of Health, Iraq: We have just received 36 cases of the injured people from yesterday and this morning's strikes on the civilian region, and we have got in this hospital four martyrs.
KWAME HOLMAN: U.S. officials say Baghdad fighters are ready to take on the Americans and British, even as U.S. leaders repeatedly have exhorted Baghdad's Shia population to turn on Saddam Hussein. But there was no evidence of Shia cooperation during Friday prayers at this Shia mosque in Baghdad.
SPOKESMAN ( Translated ): The jihad is the only thing and everything being said in the media is wrong. People who are helping the invaders are wrong. They hit our hospitals and schools and they are targeting our holy places.
KWAME HOLMAN: While most U.S. forces are south of Baghdad, small numbers of special forces control points along the Euphrates River to the northwest. That was the site of an Iraqi attack today in which three U.S. soldiers reportedly were killed.
BRIGADIER GEN. VINCENT BROOKS: Initial reports do indicate that a vehicle approached the checkpoint. A woman who appeared clearly to be pregnant exited the vehicle, screaming for assistance, in some degree of distress. As coalition forces began to approach, she and the vehicle were detonated. So she was killed by the explosion from the vehicle. We do have some combat losses as a result of this, and we'll provide more information as time goes on.
KWAME HOLMAN: Late today, the Arab TV network al Jazeera showed two women vowing to carry out suicide attacks.
WOMAN ( Translated ): I am the martyr Nora Shanbari. God is my witness and we tell our leader Saddam Hussein you will have some sisters you can be proud of, and their names will be engraved in history.
KWAME HOLMAN: Al Jazeera quoted Iraqi media saying these women carried out the Euphrates River attack. In northern Iraq, Kurdish fighters captured a key crossing point as Iraqi troops gave more ground. One Kurd could be heard shouting, "the Iraqis are running, and we are chasing." Julian Manyon of Independent Television News has been traveling with the Kurds.
JULIAN MANYON: All morning, U.S. Jets pounded Iraqi positions on the road to Mosul. The air strikes were called in by U.S. Special forces troops and nearby Kurdish peshmerga fighters prepared to move forward to take the strategic bridge at Hassan Shans. The final advance was on foot and ahead of us, U.S. Jets were still at work. There seemed to be little opposition, but then Iraqi artillery opened up. The shells flew over our heads and landed behind us. Near the key bridge, triumphant Kurdish soldiers tore down and destroyed pictures of Saddam Hussein.
As the Iraqis tried to flee the village, some of them didn't make it. The truck behind me was hit from the air, and inside it are the bodies of three dead Iraqi soldiers. The village appears to have been cleared. We're not quite sure because we are hearing the pop of automatic fire just every so often, but we believe that comes from a few Iraqi holdouts up on the high ground behind us. We crossed the bridge that the battle was fought for and found more Iraqi positions destroyed from the air. Kurdish troops were pouring forward, confident that they can now go all the way to Mosul.
SOLDIER ( Translated ): We must go to Mosul because it is our city which Saddam stole from us.
JULIAN MANYON: The Kurds are now consolidating their positions less than ten miles from Mosul. Ahead of them, the U.S. Air force is trying to open the way. But Iraqi artillery is still firing back.
KWAME HOLMAN: U.S. troops today investigated two sites for signs of chemical and biological weapons. One was a training facility in the western desert. The other was a large complex south of Baghdad. They found nerve agent antidotes documents on chemical warfare and thousands of boxes of white powder. Wire service reports said it turned out to be explosives. Farther south today, U.S. forces hunted Iraqi paramilitaries in the city of Najaf. And in Basra, British forces said they killed eight Iraqis in a firefight at the edge of the city. The British also moved another mile closer to the center of the city.
The Iraqis claimed they shot down a jet fighter over Basra. Iraqis made new efforts today to prove that Saddam Hussein still is in charge. State TV aired new footage suggesting the Iraqi leader is alive and well. Iraqi Television showed a man who appeared to be Saddam Hussein strolling through a residential area of Baghdad, flanked closely by security, greeting cheering civilians. Some saluted, and kissed him in a show of celebration. Traffic came to a standstill as crowds mobbed the man, who at one point was handed a baby to hold. Later, he climbed up on the hood of a car, as crowds chanted "with our blood and souls we redeem you Saddam." Saddam Hussein has not been seen in public since before the war began. He has appeared on tape on TV several times, but these only have raised questions whether they were recorded prior to the start of the war two weeks ago.
On March 19, a compound he was believed to be in was bombed causing many to speculate he may have been killed or critically wounded. But earlier today, Iraqi Television aired a Saddam speech in which he called on Iraqis to strike back at the U.S.-led coalition. One statement stood out: A reference to the shoot down of an Apache helicopter by an Iraqi farmer with a hunting rifle. He said, "Perhaps you remember the valiant Iraqi peasant and how he shot down an American Apache with an old weapon." That incident took place on March 23, four days after the start of the war, suggesting Saddam may have survived the bombing attack and still is alive. At the White House today, spokesman Ari Fleischer cited a different segment of the televised speech.
ARI FLEISCHER: I do note that there was one reference in the tape, Saddam Hussein saying that coalition forces or United States forces went around the defenses of Baghdad, which of course is not the facts. The facts, if anybody was there to witness the facts, are we attacked the forces defending Baghdad, we hardly went around them. So I note that.
KWAME HOLMAN: At the Pentagon, officials played down Saddam's televised appearance. Spokesman Victoria Clarke.
VICTORIA CLARKE: We have no idea where the tapes have come from, don't have anything for you on the tapes themselves. I just don't think it's that significant what may or may not be in tapes or when they may have been made. We haven't seen him publicly, and what really matters is not whether or not he's dead or alive, but the fact that whoever is left in this regime, whatever is left of the regime leadership, got up today and realized they have less and less control of their country.
KWAME HOLMAN: Outside the State Department, Secretary of State Colin Powell said it didn't matter if that indeed was Saddam on the tape.
COLIN POWELL: Psychologically, it's not going to affect our efforts. Our troops know what they are there to do. They are there to liberate Iraq and they will be successful in that mission. And whether he is there at the end or not or found or not is almost irrelevant. We are almost totally in control of the country and will be in complete control soon. And a better day is ahead for the Iraqi people.
KWAME HOLMAN: Earlier a message read in Saddam's named warned those who invaded the Iraqi capital would be defeated and forced to retreat. The number of U.S. confirmed casualties edged up today. The military named 54 dead, not including the members of the suicide bombing. Sixteen U.S. troops were listed missing, seven prisoners of war. The British military death toll remains 27. The Iraqis claim more than 1200 civilians killed. They say more than 5,000 have been wounded, and it was confirmed today that journalist Michael Kelley was killed in a vehicle accident in Iraq last night. He had been traveling with the army's third infantry division and was the first American journalist to die in the war. Kelley was editor at large of the Atlantic Monthly and columnist with the Washington Post. He was 46 years old.
A soldier in the 101st Airborne Division was charged with murder today in a grenade attack on fellow troops. Sergeant Hassan Akabar is accused of throwing grenades at a tent last month. Two soldiers were killed. A former American prisoner of war had more surgery today on her two broken legs and a broken arm. Doctors operated on army PFC Jessica Lynch at a U.S. military hospital in germany. It's still not clear how she was injured, but there were more details today of her dramatic rescue by U.S. Special Forces from a hospital in Nasiriyah. USA Today and the Washington Post reported an Iraqi lawyer named Mohammed tipped U.S. Forces to Lynch's whereabouts at risk to his own life. He said he did it because "a person is a human being, regardless of nationality." Jim.