Battles rage in Baghdad
Coalition aircraft will start 24-hour patrols over Iraqi capital
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. tanks and armored vehicles launched operations Saturday against targets in Baghdad after making their presence felt in the heart of the city in a brief daylight raid.
In the words of one Pentagon official, the Baghdad portion of the war plan has officially started.
Video from the scene showed U.S. tanks shooting into the barracks. Iraqi tanks appeared to be on fire, and smoke billowed throughout the site.
As part of the assault on the Iraqi capital, coalition planes will fly over the city at all times to provide protection for ground troops, said Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley, in charge of the coalition's Air Force in Iraq. (Full story)
Earlier, two U.S. Army task forces conducted an operation from south of the Iraqi capital north to the Tigris River and then west toward Baghdad's airport, which is under coalition control, Air Force Maj. Gen. Vincent Renuart told a briefing at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar.
The U.S. tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles encountered "pockets of very intense fighting," with Iraqis firing rocket-propelled grenades and antiaircraft artillery, Renuart said.
"It was, I think, a clear statement of the ability of the coalition forces to move into Baghdad at the time and place of their choosing," Renuart said.
Coalition commanders believe they have "the Iraqis rocking backwards on their heels," but they would not put a timetable on the end of the Iraqi regime, CNN's Walter Rodgers reported Saturday.
The area around Baghdad remained "a harsh environment" for U.S. forces, reported Rodgers, accompanying the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry of the 3rd Infantry Division.
Troops with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force have moved toward the city from the east and southeast and engaged in what Renuart described as dismounted, hand-to-hand infantry combat during the past 36 hours.
CNN's Martin Savidge, with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, said the unit encountered sporadic resistance as it moved into the outskirts of Baghdad. The Marines fired artillery before sending in the infantry, Savidge reported.
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf read a statement, said to be from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, on Iraqi TV on Saturday that acknowledged coalition troops were "on" Baghdad, but said the coalition's focus on the capital weakened its efforts elsewhere.
"And therefore your duty now is to exhaust the enemy and to add to their wounds and to deprive them from what they gained on the ground where you are, even if they were symbolic gains," the statement said. "We say this so you lift the pressure off Baghdad.
"To harm the enemy more and more, go against the enemy and destroy the enemy," the statement read. "Follow the plans that you got in writing."
But with U.S. troops entering the capital, some of the city's 5 million residents have started to flee.
U.S. soldiers reported seeing an increasing number of Iraqi army units and military trucks fleeing Baghdad, Army sources told Rodgers.
Soldiers said they saw Baath party members and some Iraqi military officers slipping their trucks into civilian convoys heading west to Jordan and, more often, northwest to Syria, Rodgers reported.
Soldiers at checkpoints on roads leading to the southwest indicated that Baghdad residents "of rank and station" were trying to leave the city with suitcases of cash, Rodgers reported.
• President Bush spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar by phone on Saturday as he kept track of war developments in Iraq and prepared for his summit Monday and Tuesday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The White House said only that the calls were part of a series to world leaders to discuss developments in Iraq.
• U.S. Central Command confirmed that the bodies found in a raid on an Iraqi hospital in Nasiriya were those of eight missing members of an Army maintenance convoy. The soldiers had been listed as missing in action since March 23, when their convoy drove into an ambush near the southern Iraqi town of Nasiriya. The bodies and that of another soldier were found during the commando assault in which Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch was freed. (Full story)
• Coalition warplanes struck the Basra residence of Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majeed, Saddam's cousin and a key member of his inner circle, according to a Central Command statement. Al-Majeed is Saddam's southern commander of forces and is known as "Chemical Ali" for allegedly ordering Iraqi forces to use chemical weapons against Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988.
• A day after U.S. forces secured Baghdad's airport, Iraqi forces are offering organized but small-scale resistance to U.S. troops trying to take control of adjacent areas, Army officials said. Renuart said Iraqis had tried to block one of the airport's runways with mounds of dirt, but said it should be cleared soon. The second runway, which was used for Iraqi military flights, was disabled by coalition airstrikes, he said.
• British forces have found hundreds of boxes containing human remains in a warehouse near Zubayr, southern Iraq, and are investigating how they got there, military officials told The Associated Press on Saturday. (Full story)
• The postwar, post-Saddam Interim Iraqi Authority envisioned by the White House would include Iraqi dissidents, exiles and Kurds and other ethnic groups from within Iraq -- but would not be solely administered by exiled Iraqis who have been angling for power, senior administration officials tell CNN. (Full story) (France, Germany and Russia)
-- CNN correspondents Walter Rodgers, Martin Savidge, Tom Mintier, Nic Robertson, Brent Sadler and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.
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