U.S. Forces Enter Baghdad, Probe Defenses
U.S. Central Command spokesman Major-General Victor Renuart said of the military incursion into the capital, ”This is a clear statement of the ability of coalition forces to move into Baghdad at times of their choosing. These kinds of operations will continue.”
“But this fight is far from over.”
Renuart said U.S. troops faced “pockets of very intense fighting” from Republican Guards and paramilitaries loyal to Saddam Hussein. He later said U.S. forces were still wary of the possible use of chemical or biological weapons by Iraqi forces.
“Any person that feels threatened is likely to lash out in a way that might be unpredictable,” Renuart said. “So we would not in any way expect that this regime might not take the opportunity to do something desperate and to use a weapon like that, even in the area of its own city, where its own people were.”
Khaled Yacoub Oweis of the Reuters news service witnessed Saddam’s Fedayeen troops, distinguished by their all black uniforms, moving through downtown Baghdad toward the southern part of the city, while other Iraqi troops drove around in pickup trucks outfitted with machine guns and fortified buildings. Oweis, reporting from the center of the city on Saturday, said he had not seen any sign of U.S. troops.
News reports also said U.S. Marines were fighting volunteer Arab fighters from countries outside Iraq near a marshy area on the outskirts of the capital. Reports said the two sides were engaged in close combat and that the Marines had fixed bayonets to their rifles.
“It’s like a jihad. They were given a rifle and told to become a martyr,” Lt. Col. B.P. McCoy of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines told the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops continued to secure the former Saddam International Airport some 10 miles southwest of the city. U.S. officials said they had changed the name of the facility of Baghdad International Airport.
Renuart said at least one of the airport’s runways, which had been damaged by coalition bombing, will soon be ready to receive aircraft.
Rumors that Iraqi forces had re-taken the airport reportedly swirled through Baghdad Saturday causing spontaneous celebrations among the citizens. Iraqi television also claimed to have beaten back advancing U.S. forces.
“Today, we butchered the force present at the airport,” Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said in a statement, adding that Iraqis would continue using “creative” methods such as suicide bombings.
U.S. troops continue to mass outside the city as more elements of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division move in from the southwest and the Marine 1st Expeditionary Force converge from the southeast.
After sunset Saturday local time, explosions resounded throughout Baghdad after U.S. military officials told reporters at the Pentagon that American attack jets, air controllers and spy planes were on 24-hour alert over Baghdad’s skies.
During the attacks, a bomb struck within 100 meters of the Palestine Hotel. The hotel serves as headquarters for many international journalists reporting on the war.