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Saddam's regime in ruins

U.S. troops welcomed on the streets of Baghdad Wednesday
U.S. troops welcomed on the streets of Baghdad Wednesday

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Saddam's statue toppled in Baghdad's Firdos Square.
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CNN's Martin Savidge sees the battle at Baghdad University.
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Kurdish fighters join with U.S. forces in the north. CNN's Brent Sadler reports.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The toppling of a giant bronze statue in Baghdad -- despite battles raging elsewhere and some anarchy on the streets -- is being greeted as the symbolic crumbling of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime.

While the U.S. White House warns that there will be days of fighting ahead, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations has conceded the inevitable.

"The game is over. I hope the peace will prevail and the Iraqi people at the end of the day will have a peaceful life," Mohammed Aldouri said Wednesday in New York, adding that he had lost contact with Saddam Hussein's regime.

When he was asked if Iraq would "surrender," he said: "I don't know."

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that while difficult days lay ahead, "today is a very good day for the Iraqi people" and officials added that the regime was "in disarray."

"Saddam Hussein is now taking his rightful place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed brutal dictators, and the Iraqi people are well on their way to freedom," said Rumsfeld. (Tide is turning)

But even though U.S. troops were in the heart of the Iraqi capital White House spokesman Ari Fleischer warned that "the war is not over." (Historic moment)

The whereabouts of the leader himself remained a mystery, although a key Iraqi opposition leader told CNN he had received reports Saddam and his family had escaped Baghdad to a town northeast of the capital. (Full story)

Despite uncertainty about Saddam's fate, cheering and chanting Iraqis danced in Baghdad's Firdos Square on a toppled statue of Saddam, dragged off its massive stone base by U.S. Marines in a tank.

Though there was a muted reaction from the crowd when a Marine draped a U.S. flag over the statue's head -- after one minute it was replaced by an Iraqi flag pre-dating the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

After the statue was pulled down the Iraqis broke it into pieces and dragged its head around through the streets while others -- including children -- pounded it with shoes, an act considered a supreme insult in the Arab world. (Symbols attacked)

But just over three kilometers from that jubilant scene, open warfare came to the campus of Baghdad University, where 1st Marines, 7th Battalion came under heavy fire and barreled onto campus, returning fire.

CNN's Martin Savidge, traveling with the battalion, said the university campus became a battlefield with black smoke enveloping the campus and machine gun fire ripping past Marines and journalists alike. (From celebration to battle)

In other areas, Iraqis took advantage of vanished regime security to break into buildings -- particularly government buildings -- and come away with office supplies, refrigerators, chair and whatever else they could handle.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was temporarily halting work in Baghdad because of the "chaos" in the Iraqi capital. It said a Canadian Red Cross staffer had been killed in crossfire which was preventing ambulances reaching hospitals. (Full story)

U.S. Central Command Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said Wednesday that Saddam's regime was "in disarray," but cautioned that the fighting was far from over.

Iraqi fighters have been seen discarding their uniforms and slipping into the civilian population, he said, adding that while some were probably going home, others may be awaiting an opportunity to attack again. And much of northern Iraq remains under the regime's control, although officials were not clear how that control was being coordinated or how long the control might last.

Another indicator that the structure of the Iraqi government was crumbling, sources in Baghdad said, was the absence Wednesday of Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf. The daily face of Saddam's regime, Sahaf did not show up for work at his ministry's office in the Palestine Hotel.

In other developments:

• In the northern city of Erbil, Iraqis threw confetti, waved flags and streamers and flashed the "V" sign. Motorists honked their horns, people danced in the street and children cheered as crowds formed an impromptu parade.

• Scenes of looting played out in Basra in southeastern Iraq on Tuesday. But civilians took the law into their own hands, stoning people who were stealing food set aside for humanitarian aid to sell on the black market. (Full story)

• The United States plans to host a conference of Iraqi opposition leaders April 15 in Nasiriya, Iraq, to discuss the creation of an interim authority to replace Saddam. (Full story)

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

• Japan will contribute up to $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Iraq and neighboring countries in response to an appeal from the United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross, the government said.

• According to the latest coalition figures, 127 coalition service members have died in the war. Eight U.S. service personnel are listed as missing in action and seven held as prisoners of war. (Coalition casualties)

• The Iraqi government has released no information on military losses, though U.S. military officials have reported thousands of Iraqi military deaths. Official Iraqi sources quoted by Abu Dhabi TV said 1,252 civilians had died and 5,103 had been wounded. U.S. Central Command said more than 7,000 Iraqis had been taken prisoner of war.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

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