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Savidge: Fight turns fatal at key bridge

CNN's Martin Savidge
CNN's Martin Savidge

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CNN's Martin Savidge, embedded with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, reports U.S. marines have closed in on Baghdad from the east side of the city (April 7)
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NEAR BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- As U.S.-led forces again closed in on Baghdad in a campaign to topple Saddam Hussein's regime, CNN correspondent Martin Savidge, traveling with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, spoke to CNN anchor Paula Zahn via videophone on the latest war developments Monday.

ZAHN: What are you encountering?

SAVIDGE: Well, we know that about the same time the U.S. Army made entry into Baghdad from the west today, U.S. Marines began pushing from the east. However, there is a price that has already been paid.

It was the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, that, just a short distance away from us, were preparing to cross a canal where a bridge was partially destroyed by retreating Iraqi troops.

As they were preparing to move, they were hit by Iraqi artillery, it was confirmed to CNN. Some question whether it was friendly fire or incoming Iraqi artillery. We have been told by the head Marine division there is no doubt whatsoever. This was Iraqi artillery and mortar fire that came in and hit an armored personnel carrier with Marines onboard and we have been told that there are at least two fatalities.

We don't know if there were wounded besides the two that were killed, with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. Despite that loss, they continued pushing on into Baghdad. And now behind is the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, holding that bridgehead and building at the same time a temporary bridge so they can handle and send more troops, more armor and tanks into the Baghdad area.

There has been fighting around a small village at the bridgehead, at times fighting described as moderate. It includes artillery barrages, mortar exchange and machine gun fire as well as small-arms fire.

That has died away. There was air support brought in and it appears that bridgehead is under control of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, and they could press forward as could rear elements.

That's action today; a significant development yesterday, achieved by 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, [has been] overshadowed by events in Baghdad.

Yesterday they were able to secure the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission headquarters. It is a massive facility that covers acres and acres of property, including office buildings and laboratories. Marines were able to get into the facility, found it abandoned at the time, began going through offices.

There is, you can imagine, there is ... information ... in the file cabinets and a number of -- they found laboratories, [which] appeared to have sophisticated electronic equipment inside and appeared recently used and a number of substances, liquids and, well, all sorts of things inside of boxes, inside of containers and inside refrigerators.

Keep in mind, Marines are not scientists. It is their job to hold and take an objective, not to figure out its exact intention here. So, was this part of the civilian nuclear program? Or was it part of something more sinister than that? No one knows at this particular point.

Also, chemical masks and suits found [had] warnings on the side, warning about radiation and warning about wearing protective clothing. What will happen now is something called a [military] Sensitive Site Exploitation team [will be] brought in to this site and they are scientists, they are experts.

And they will begin trying to determine how this facility was being used, whether it was used properly or whether it was used for some sort of weapons program. It could turn out to be a significant find for coalition forces.

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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