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Coalition grip tightens on Baghdad

Marines find bloodstained American uniforms at prison

Bullet holes and graffiti mark a mural painting of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad Tuesday.
Bullet holes and graffiti mark a mural painting of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad Tuesday.

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U.S. MILITARY BRIEFING, TUESDAY
• Coalition forces are moving "at will" within and around Baghdad which was described as isolated.

• Saddam's regime still controls elements of the Iraqi military, specifically Special Republican Guard units and death squads, even though command and control has deteriorated.

• Expressed regret that U.S. military fire killed  three journalists, but said U.S. forces were under fire at the time and had right to defend themselves.
BUSH/BLAIR KEY POINTS

• The United Nations will have a role in forming an interim regime and in the reconstruction of Iraq.

• President Bush said it was unclear whether a Monday airstrike hit Saddam Hussein, but he pledged the Iraqi leader "will be gone."

• The coalition will move "as quickly as possible" to cede control of the interim authority to Iraqis.

SPECIAL REPORT
•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
•  Weapons: 3D Models

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- With the fate of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein still a mystery, Pentagon officials said Tuesday coalition forces controlled the skies over Iraq and continued to degrade Iraqi ground forces.

U.S. forces were moving "at will" within and around Baghdad, Pentagon officials said, describing the capital city as increasingly isolated.

"We are sitting in the center of the city with almost an armor brigade right now, which is extraordinary," said Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

McChrystal said Saddam's Republican Guard units either were ignoring orders or were incapable of carrying them out.

But, he said clashes with elements of the Special Republican Guard have resulted in"fierce fights" and "significant engagements" from which U.S. forces have emerged "very successful." (More on battles)

The U.S.-led assault has left Iraq with 19 tanks out of its fleet of 800, another senior U.S. official said.

U.S. Marines found bloodstained camouflage uniforms but no American captives at the al Rashid military prison on the southwestern edge of Baghdad, Pentagon officials said.

Two of the uniforms bore the names of two American service members known to be Iraqi prisoners of war, military sources said, but they would not divulge the names.

Military officials will conduct DNA tests in hope of determining whether the uniforms came from any of the seven Americans known to have been captured since the war in Iraq began March 20.

The prison was captured Tuesday after Marines fought their way through southeastern Baghdad. Pentagon officials said the Marines had intelligence suggesting U.S. prisoners might have been held there.

U.S. officials told CNN a team of CIA and defense intelligence analysts is preparing to enter Iraq to investigate the fate of Capt.Scott Speicher, a Navy pilot shot down on the first day of the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. (Full story)

Two U.S. airmen missing

While it was not known whether Saddam survived Monday's B-1 bomber strike that obliterated a building where U.S. officials suspected him of huddling with several senior aides, President Bush said he believes the Iraqi leader is losing his grip on the country. (Full story)

"I can't tell you if all 10 fingers are off the throat," Bush said at a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Northern Ireland. "But finger by finger's coming off, and the people are beginning to realize that." (Full story)

To discuss the creation of an interim Iraqi authority to replace Saddam, the United States plans to host a conference of Iraqi opposition leaders, tentatively set for April 15 in the southern Iraqi town of Nasiriya, U.S. officials told CNN. (Full story)

The participants will include members of the Iraqi opposition "from both inside and outside the country," one Bush administration official said, adding that Bush's envoy to the Iraqi opposition, Zalmay Khalilzhad, probably would represent the United States.

Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will travel to Athens on April 16 and 17 to discuss the U.N. role in Iraq with European Union leaders.

In Baghdad Tuesday afternoon, U.S. warplanes unleashed two satellite-guided bombs on the ruling Baath party headquarters and Iraqi Information Ministry, hours after targeting Special Republican Guard and Republican Guard headquarters in the Iraqi capital, U.S. Army sources told CNN.

Earlier Tuesday, A-10 Warthog jets dropped bombs at five- to eight-second intervals over Baghdad, dipping in and out of low cloud cover. The A-10s also strafed Iraqi positions with 30 mm cannons in the center of the city, Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Ron Martz told CNN.

One of those aircraft was shot down near Baghdad's airport, apparently by an Iraqi surface-to-air missile, Central Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said. The pilot ejected safely and was picked up by U.S. forces.

Coalition forces searched Tuesday for two U.S. Air Force crew members missing after their F-15E Strike Eagle plane went down Sunday in the vicinity of Tikrit, which is still hostile territory, military officials said. (Full story)

Other developments

• U.S. C-17 transports airlifted Army tanks and armored vehicles from Germany into Harir airfield in northeastern Iraq early Wednesday, giving the 173rd Airborne Brigade firepower and mobility for a possible offensive, CNN Correspondent Steve Nettleton reported. Elements of the 173rd parachuted into the field to secure it two weeks ago. The brigade launched a heavy artillery barrage against Iraqi forces Monday.

• Members of the 3rd Brigade, U.S. 101st Airborne Division, engaged Fedayeen Saddam fighters in a fierce firefight Tuesday for control of Hillah, a city about 50 miles south of Baghdad, according to CNN's Ryan Chilcote, who is embedded with the unit. (Full story)

• American military fire killed three journalists in two incidents Tuesday near central Baghdad. A Reuters cameraman and a Spanish TV cameraman were killed when a tank round hit the Palestine Hotel, located across the Tigris River from Baghdad's Republican Palace. The third journalist, Al-Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayoub, died when planes and tanks hit the network's Baghdad headquarters near Iraq's Ministry of Information. (Full story)

• Members of Jessica Lynch's family said after visiting her at a U.S. medical facility in Germany that the former prisoner of war was in high spirits and in good medical condition. Lynch's family said she was unaware of the media frenzy over her April 1 rescue. (Full story)

• U.S. Marines in southeastern Baghdad found scores of chemical suits, as well as masks and a box of atropine injectors, that appeared to have been hastily abandoned Tuesday in a field that airstrikes targeted, CNN's Martin Savidge reported.

• A Russian convoy that came under fire over the weekend may have deviated from its planned evacuation route, U.S. Army V Corps senior commanders told the National Journal. U.S. military officials said they understood the convoy would travel west on Highway 10 out of Baghdad, but the group went farther north -- possibly into the thick of a firefight. (Full story)

• The British military has begun efforts to form an indigenous civil administration in Basra province with help from a tribal leader. A local sheik who approached British officials will form a committee to chart the future government of the southeastern Iraqi region, Col. Chris Vernon said. (Full story)

• U.S. special operations forces are trying to seize a strategic highway that links the northern Iraqi cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, according to CNN's Ben Wedeman. The strategy is to cut off and isolate the cities rather than to go into them, Wedeman said. (Full story)

CNN correspondents Jill Dougherty, Art Harris, Tom Mintier, Diana Muriel, Walter Rodgers, Brent Sadler, Martin Savidge, Barbara Starr and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.


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