U.S. Forces Tighten Grip on Baghdad, Hit Ministry Buildings
Iraqi troops stormed American positions near a bridge over the Tigris River, but U.S. soldiers struck back, hitting the advancing Iraqi’s with machine gun fire, mortars and artillery.
News reports indicated that at least 50 Iraqis died in the assault and two Americans were wounded, one seriously.
“We survived the first night, and that’s usually the most difficult one,” Army Colonel David Perkins, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade, told the Associated Press.
Following the attack, American tanks and armored personnel carriers moved over the Tigris, firing at enemy positions along the river in the ministries of planning and information.
During this assault, a U.S. tank also fired on the Palestine Hotel, headquarters for many of the foreign journalists in Baghdad, hitting near the offices of the Reuters news service. Two cameramen died in the attack and three other journalists were wounded.
Although journalists say there were no Iraqi military targets in the hotel, American forces said a sniper had been shooting at advancing troops from the hotel.
“The regime uses places like the Palestine Hotel for other regime purposes,” Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told reporters at Central Command later in the day. “They try to achieve a degree of protection from other activities that occur there.”
The U.S. military authorities also accused Iraqis of using several “unconventional” techniques to threaten or slow the coalition advance. Iraqi forces reportedly established wires across key roads to injure or decapitate troops as they drove and place makeshift bombs in cars.
“There are any number of unconventional options available to this regime and certainly according to its practices thus far we expect to encounter them inside of Baghdad,” Brooks said.
While the fighting continued in the western part of the Iraqi capital, U.S. Marines were slowly closing in from the east.
They seized the military base at the Rashid airfield southeast of central Baghdad.
“We are just securing it, making sure there are no enemy forces left in it that might be straggling behind,” U.S. Captain Matt Watt of the 1st Marine Division’s Lima Company told Reuters.
Coalition planners said it was part of the overall military effort to close in on the regime of Saddam Hussein.
“A vice is closing in on this regime, and as the vice closes their time is running out,” Lieutenant Mark Kitchens told reporters at Central Command headquarters in Qatar.
Although coalition forces continued to close on central Baghdad, President Bush cautioned the war was not over, but added the end was not in doubt.
“As this war has progressed the world has witnessed the brutal desperation, the true character of the Iraqi regime,” Bush said. “There will be difficult fighting ahead, yet the outcome is not in doubt. Iraq will be free.”
Despite American news reports, Iraq’s information minister remained defiant; once again Tuesday taking to the streets to deny reports the U.S. controlled large parts of the capital.
“Baghdad is bracing to pummel the invaders… They are going to surrender or be burned in their tanks,” Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told reporters at the Palestine Hotel, shortly before it was hit by tank fire.
As the fighting continued, international humanitarian groups have warned of a growing disaster at Baghdad’s hospitals.
The World Health Organization and the International Red Cross have both said the hospitals are overrun by wounded civilians and are running low of key medical supplies.
“Before the war started, there were enough supplies for a normal medical situation,” WHO spokesman Iain Simpson said. “This is not a normal situation.”
Red Cross spokesperson Nada Doumani warned that the hospitals, facing as many as 100 casualties an hour during heavy fighting, are near collapse.
“The hospitals have reached their limit,” Doumani said Tuesday. “Staff are working around the clock.”
Doumani also said the doctors are running low on clean water, anesthetics and other critical supplies.