Rapid Coalition Movement Toward Baghdad
Embedded New York Times correspondent Dexter Filkins reported Thursday that U.S. tanks and Marine units moving at full-speed “chased away a Republican Guard division this morning and raced almost unimpeded toward the outskirts of Baghdad.”
As coalition forces converged from the southeast and southwest, reports suggested that some Iraqi soldiers shed their military uniforms and fell back into the city.
Saddam Hussein’s regime has warned that U.S.-led troops will face street-by-street urban combat when they arrive in Baghdad. Militia forces inside the city have reportedly outfitted pickup trucks with machine guns in preparation of an invasion.
U.S. military officials said the rapid advance to within the outskirts of Baghdad does not mean that an invasion is imminent.
“We are getting closer and closer,” said Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, a Central Command spokesman. “We will be in Baghdad within a matter of hours from when we decide to go.”
Iraqi artillery fire was reported around the edges of the city Thursday afternoon as coalition planes continued to bomb targets inside the capital.
The Iraqi information minister denied reports that coalition forces are closing in on the city and accused the United States of killing civilians with its bombing.
“They are nowhere near Baghdad,” Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told reporters at a press conference. “These criminals dropped cluster bombs on the Douri residential area of Baghdad, and 14 people — men, women and children — were martyred and 66 were wounded.”
Iraqi officials have taken journalists to city morgues to view the bodies of civilians they say have been killed by U.S. attacks.
Special forces units are also reportedly conducting raids in and around Baghdad including an operation Wednesday night in which U.S. soldiers, ferried by helicopters, entered and inspected one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces about 55 miles outside of Baghdad.
U.S. Central Command spokesman General Vincent Brooks said the soldiers found the palace unoccupied but seized documents. Brooks said the coalition also raided a palace close to the airport on the edge of Baghdad.
Brooks cautioned that the positive news does not yet indicate victory over Saddam Hussein’s forces.
“There are still options that are open to the regime, including weapons of mass destruction. We take that very seriously,” Brooks said.