U.S. soldiers, tanks enter Iraqi capital
Tape shows Saddam on Baghdad streets
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. soldiers and tanks are operating inside Baghdad, 17 days after the war in Iraq began, Army sources said early Saturday.
Several tank units from the 2nd Brigade of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division rolled into the Iraqi capital on what was described as a reconnaissance mission, CNN correspondent Walter Rodgers reported.
Meanwhile Saturday, a day after U.S. forces secured the newly christened Baghdad International Airport, Iraqi forces are offering organized but small-scale resistance to American soldiers working to bring adjacent areas under control, the commanding officer of the Army's 3-7th Cavalry said.
"They're continuing to fight, and we will continue to succeed," Lt. Col. Terry Ferrell said in an interview with Rodgers, embedded with the unit.
Elements of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division and 101st Airborne are working to secure the area, about 10 miles from the center of Baghdad, Rodgers reported. Friday afternoon, the 3-7th Calvary engaged and destroyed an Iraqi contingent of 40 armored vehicles, including about 20 tanks, Ferrell said.
Ferrell said advancing U.S. forces are engaging in "stiff" fights with small contingents of Iraqi troops, but they have not encountered large-scale Iraqi resistance.
Meanwhile, huge explosions and multiple flashes of light were heard and seen over mostly blacked-out Baghdad early Saturday, hours after hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Iraqis fled the capital.
Explosions were so intense that parts of the city were lit up by fireballs. At times, successive explosions jolted the city for minutes.
Much of the fighting on the ground centered around Baghdad's international airport, secured by coalition troops a day earlier in a bloody assault that left hundreds of Iraqi soldiers dead.
"The coalition has a substantial number of forces on the ground at Baghdad International Airport," Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said at a Pentagon briefing. "We are still sporadically engaging forces on the airport grounds and clearing buildings there."
A source in Baghdad told CNN that members of the Republican Guard -- Iraq's top military force -- were heading toward the airport to bolster the Iraqi troops.
In a videotaped address broadcast by Iraqi television Friday evening, President Saddam Hussein urged Iraqis to fight coalition forces "with what you have available."
Saddam referred to the downing of a helicopter in the war, suggesting he survived the coalition air strike in mid-March. (Full story)
Pentagon officials said it was difficult to shut down Iraqi state television because "it has a very redundant system, starting with fixed sites, to include mobile vans that it uses to put out its signal." (Full story)
Later Friday, Arabic TV stations aired video of a man purporting to be Saddam greeting a small cheering crowd on a Baghdad street. It was not clear when that footage was shot.
After seeing the tape, U.S. officials said it is likely Saddam is alive.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said finding Saddam, dead or alive, would be helpful, but victory would not depend on it. Victory would mean removing Saddam's regime from power and eliminating the country's weapons of mass destruction, Fleischer said.
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said Friday the U.S. forces at the airport were "an isolated island" and that Iraqi troops have "nailed down" or turned back other coalition advances.
He said U.S. forces would face "something that is not conventional" Friday night.
Sahaf said Iraq will not use weapons of mass destruction against advancing U.S. or British troops, but he threatened widespread use of "martyrdom" and said the action would be "not by military." (Full story)
Time Magazine reporter Simon Robinson, with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Unit, said coalition forces have seen Jordanian and Egyptian "mercenary fighters" who had come to Iraq to join with Iraqi fighters against the coalition.
Robinson said he saw hundreds of Baghdad residents fleeing the city Friday, in some places caught in bumper-to-bumper traffic. An Associated Press reporter said thousands were trying to get out.
A source in Baghdad told CNN that electricity was restored in the northern and western portions of the city by late Friday, and lights could be seen in those areas.
'Suicide bus' attacks
Although coalition forces have secured Baghdad's airport -- which U.S. Central Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks called "the gateway to the future of Iraq" -- the area surrounding it remains "hostile territory," reported CNN's Walter Rodgers, with the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry of U.S. 3rd Infantry Division a few miles from the airport.
More than 20 Iraqi tanks have been seen operating between the perimeter of the airport and the 3-7th, which is a few miles away guarding the flanks of the 3rd Infantry soldiers working to secure the airport.
In 24 hours, troops killed more than 400 Iraqi soldiers near the airport, Rodgers reported. The cavalry destroyed at least nine tanks, 12 armored vehicles, and more than 30 trucks, he reported. (Aiding a wounded Iraqi)
There were no reported coalition casualties in the area.
Iraqis had tried to stop the U.S. advance by charging with dump trucks, pickup trucks and buses filled with Iraqi soldiers firing their weapons, according to reports from Rodgers. The Army called the soldier-filled vehicles "suicide buses."
U.S. tanks easily destroyed the Iraqi vehicles, he said. At least one of the buses blew up as if it had explosives inside. (Full story)
U.S. military officials have been concerned Iraq could unleash chemical weapons south of Baghdad as more coalition troops mass close to the city. Central Command's Brooks cautioned Friday that Iraq may have pulled weapons of mass destruction "into the Baghdad area."
Brooks said coalition forces found boxes of unidentified powder, liquid and other materials in an industrial facility near the city.
But a senior U.S. official familiar with initial testing told The Associated Press the materials were believed to be explosives.
Another site, found by special operations forces in western Iraq, appears to have been a training facility for handling chemical and biological weapons, Brooks said.
Iraq insists it has no such weapons.
Cheers and surrenders
Brooks said coalition forces control the roads leading in and out of northern Iraq as well as the route linking Baghdad with Tikrit, Saddam's ancestral home.
Hundreds of regular Republican Guard troops surrendered to U.S. Marines between Kut and Baghdad on Friday, U.S. Central Command said. One spokesman put that figure at 2,500.
As U.S. Marines marched toward the capital from the southeast, CNN's Jason Bellini, embedded with a unit at the forefront, said there were civilians cheering "Saddam bad, Bush good."
CNN's Martin Savidge, with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, said the convoy passed Iraqi military uniforms piled beside the road and abandoned tanks and artillery equipment -- evidence that Iraqi soldiers may have given up the fight and gone home.
Iraqi soldiers deserting their units in northern Iraq report low pay, little food, and executions of deserters who were caught, Human Rights Watch said Friday.
It was believed to be the first independent report from deserting Iraqi soldiers since the war began.
The international human rights group interviewed 26 people who recently deserted the Iraqi military and sought sanctuary in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Human Rights Watch said as many as 130 Iraqi deserters were being held by the Kurdish Democratic Party in Erbil, in northeastern Iraq.
Northwest of Baghdad, three coalition troops were killed and two were wounded Friday when a car bomb exploded at a checkpoint about 11 miles from the strategic Hadithah Dam, Central Command said.
The U.S. Central Command said a pregnant woman got out of a car and began "screaming in fear" at the checkpoint and the car exploded as the troops approached the vehicle. The woman and the car's driver were also killed. (Full story)
• The postwar, post-Saddam Interim Iraqi Authority envisioned by the White House would include a mix of Iraqi dissidents and exiles, Kurds and other ethnic groups from within Iraq but at no point would be solely administered by exiled Iraqis who have been angling for postwar power, senior administration officials told CNN. (Full story) (France, Germany and Russia)
• Two medical volunteers from the group Doctors Without Borders have been missing in Baghdad since Wednesday, the group announced Friday.
• Washington Post columnist and Atlantic Monthly editor at large Michael Kelly was the first American journalist to die in Iraq. Kelly was embedded with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division and reportedly was killed in a Humvee accident Thursday night. (Full story)
• Burning Iraqi military vehicles, including a truck with the bodies of three Iraqi soldiers, littered the road heading east to Mosul after the northern Iraqi town of Khazar fell to Kurdish forces Friday. The town's capture came after more than a day of fighting between those forces -- known as Peshmerga -- and Iraqis firing artillery and mortars. U.S. special operations forces in white Land Rovers were seen spotting targets for laser-guided bombs. After several hours of U.S. bombing strikes, the Iraqi soldiers retreated and the Peshmerga moved in.
• An Iraqi man who helped U.S. Marines plan the rescue of 19-year-old American prisoner of war Jessica Lynch has been granted refugee status and described by the Marines as a "hero." (Full story)
CNN correspondents Martin Savidge, Walter Rodgers, Jane Arraf, Tom Mintier, Nic Robertson, Brent Sadler, Ben Wedeman and Barbara Starr, and producer Mike Mount, contributed to this report.
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