Monday, Apr 07, 2003
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NEAR BAGHDAD, IRAQ, APRIL 6. U.S. forces encircled the Iraqi capital today and the U.S. Central Command said 3,000 Iraqi fighters were killed in a show-of-force foray into Baghdad by American armoured vehicles.
Iraqi soldiers atop a destroyed U.S. tank on the southern outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday. - Reuters
The Iraqi President, along with his two sons, fled Baghdad three days ago for his hometown of Tikrit, 175 km to the north of Baghdad. Haitham Rashid Wihaib, Mr. Hussein's former Chief of Protocol, said: "I have been informed that once he had firm evidence that the Americans were closing in on Baghdad, he fled to his hometown of Tikrit."
The Iraqi Information Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf warned Baghdad residents against rumours and lies. ``Open your eyes and keep your minds alert to be able to differentiate between information and the inadequate ones,'' he said during a news conference.
A report quoting US officers said the coalition prepared to launch a final assault on Baghdad to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The Third Brigade of the US Army's Third Infantry Division was circling northward from the west while the Marines launched a pre-dawn push from the southeast towards the Tigris river, said Major Rod Legowski. He claimed that Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians were fighting alongside Iraqi forces against U.S. troops moving on the capital. The consolidation of U.S. positions around Baghdad came amid a fresh wave of coalition air raids on the capital, with explosions and artillery fire rocking the city centre and the southern outskirts, as the war entered its 18th day.
In northern Iraq, a U.S. warplane bombed a convoy of Kurdish fighters and U.S. Special Forces, Kurdish officials said. A Kurdish spokesman said 17 of its fighters were killed and 45 others injured. The British Broadcasting Corp. said one of its translators was killed.
In Moscow, the Kremlin said a convoy of Russian Embassy diplomats, including the Russian ambassador to Iraq, came under fire as they were evacuating from Baghdad and starting to drive toward Syria. A Russian Foreign Ministry official said four or five persons were wounded but that the injuries were not life threatening.
British forces in southern Iraq made their deepest push yet into Basra, with a column of 40 armoured personnel carriers rolling into Iraq's second-biggest city after a series of strikes on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's loyalist defenders.
A U.S. Army convoy moves on a highway in Baghdad on Sunday. - AP
U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace said in Washington that Iraqi ``freedom fighters'' were being airlifted to southern Iraq to join coalition troops and form the nucleus of a new national army for that country.
``These are Iraqi citizens who want to fight for a free Iraq, who will become basically the core of the new Iraqi army once Iraq is free,'' Pace, vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said on the ABC television program ``This Week.''
Though the Army's 40-km incursion on Saturday through an industrial section of southern Baghdad was brief, it inflicted a heavy toll, U.S. military spokesman Jim Wilkinson said. More than three-dozen tanks and armoured vehicles were involved; U.S. casualties were described as light, he said. The blitz took two task forces of the 3rd Infantry Division from the southern outskirts of the city past Baghdad University and near the banks of the Tigris River, then back to the western outskirts of the city to the airport, which is under U.S. control.
Iraqi authorities took Baghdad-based journalists to the city's southern outskirts on Sunday to show them a U.S. tank destroyed in the recent fighting. A commander said four more tanks also were destroyed but had been towed away to clear the road.
The number of casualties in Baghdad is so high that hospitals have stopped counting the number of people treated, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
U.S. pressure in and around Baghdad intensified on Sunday, including an attempt by Marines to take a bridge over a canal leading into the city. Another Marine battalion overran a Republican Guard headquarters and seized one of Saddam's palaces south of the city. Overhead, U.S. warplanes were flying round the clock, coordinating precision strikes in support of upcoming ground attacks.
A Reuters report, quoting a military spokesman on Iraqi television, said that Iraq fired five missiles at the U.S.-led forces on the outskirts of Baghdad, in an admission that the 18-day old invasion has reached the doorstep of the Iraqi capital.
In Washington, the U.S. Deputy Defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, said today that the Iraqi Government still controlled large parts of Baghdad. "I suppose you would have to say that the regime controls large sections of Baghdad," he told Fox News. AP, AFP
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