[This story was updated on 04.05.2003 at 6:50 p.m. ET.]
With U.S. troops moving closer to control of Baghdad, the Pentagon warned that fighting in Iraq will continue. A statement issued by Saddam Hussein called upon Iraqis to resist the advancing coalition forces.
"The Iraqi military as an organized defense in large combat formations doesn't really exist anymore," said Air Force Lieutenant General T. Michael Moseley, who oversees the coalition forces' air campaign against the Iraqi regime.
Moseley said U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine aircraft now fly continually over the Iraqi capital in support of troops on the ground.
Operating in broad daylight early Saturday (April 5), some 30 tanks and fighting vehicles from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division rumbled north through Baghdad's Dawra neighborhood, according to military sources. They then turned west and arrived at the city's airport, where other members of the division are positioned.
About 1,000 Iraqis were killed in the fighting, a U.S. commander told AFP, a French News Agency. A reporter from the agency said he saw dozens of Iraqi combat vehicles burning in the streets.
"This is a clear statement of the ability of coalition forces to move into Baghdad at times of their choosing," said Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart of U.S. Central Command during a briefing with reporters on Saturday. "These kinds of operations will continue. But this fight is far from over."
The push into Baghdad appeared to be part of a larger strategy to use Baghdad's airport on the southern outskirts of the city as a local headquarters from which future, further incursions can be launched (see "Widespread Power Outage In Baghdad; Saddam Airport Under Siege").
"The airport gives us a fairly substantial base to operate from," said Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart of U.S. Central Command during a briefing with reporters on Saturday.
A statement attributed to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein encouraged Iraqis to fight U.S.-led forces. Read on Iraqi television by information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, the statement noted that coalition forces were now focusing on Baghdad.
"You must inflict more wounds on this enemy and fight it and deprive it of the victories it has achieved ... you must rattle their joints and terrify them and speedily defeat them in and around Baghdad," the statement read.
Earlier in the day, al-Sahaf claimed U.S. forces had been repelled from Baghdad's airport, but various reports of Iraqi troops surrendering or fleeing bolstered Pentagon claims that Saddam Hussein's regime is in disarray.
Baath Party and other Iraqi officials are reportedly leaving Baghdad in civilian convoys west of the city, CNN reported Saturday. Their destination may be Syria, which lies along Iraq's western border. Thousands of other citizens were reported to be heading for the outskirts of the city, hoping to avoid the battle for Baghdad. U.S. Special Forces troops are believed to have established check points along the main highways through the western desert and may eventually encounter the refugees.
In Suwayrah, 35 miles southeast of Baghdad, U.S. troops overran the headquarters of the Medina Division of the Republican Guard (see "What Is The Republican Guard?"). The division was previously believed to have been the most potent in Saddam Hussein's army.
After passing dozens of abandoned foxholes and destroyed tanks and encountering almost no resistance, 3rd Infantry Division troops came upon the Medina's base of operations, which appeared to have been heavily damaged by U.S. air strikes. Inside the abandoned compound, they found a variety of maps and memos to Iraqi troops, including one instructing field commanders how to handle a U.S. attack that read, "Don't panic, don't act stupidly."
In Najaf, members of the 101st Airborne uncovered a significant weapons stock along with numerous identification cards that they believe might belong to members of the Fedayeen Saddam, Iraq's paramilitary troops (see "Who Are The Fedayeen?"). The troops planned to destroy the weapons.
Other recent key developments:
- In his weekly radio address, President Bush expressed that victory for coalition forces is within grasp. "Village by village, city by city, liberation is coming," he said. "As the vise tightens on the Iraqi regime, some of our enemies have chosen to fill their final days with acts of cowardice and murder."
- Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will hold a summit meeting on Monday and Tuesday in Northern Ireland. The two leaders will likely discuss the progress of the war and plans for rebuilding a post-war Iraq.
- British troops made the grisly discovery of more than 200 human remains that stored in an Iraqi regime facility in the southern Iraq. The remains were found in coffins and were accompanied by complete documentation on each of the victims, most of who appeared to have been shot in the head.
- The International Committee of the Red Cross said that Baghdad's hospitals are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the number of wounded. A spokesman for the group said that four hospitals visited by its staff in the capital had reported "several hundred war wounded patients as well as dozens of fatalities" from recent fighting.
- A soldier from the Army's 101st Airborne Division has been charged with murder for his role in a grenade attack on his comrades on March 23. Sgt. Hasan K. Akbar, 32, was charged with two counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder. He is alleged to have tossed grenades into a tent where fellow members of the 101st were gathered. Two soldiers were killed. Nearly a dozen others were wounded.
- The U.S. confirmed that it has suffered its first female casualty. Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, 23, of Tuba City, AZ was one of seven bodies from the the 507th Maintenance Company that were recovered by U.S. Special Forces troops during their successful rescue of Pfc Jessica Lynch.
- Lynch underwent her second surgery Friday, a procedure on her spine, according to CNN. Lynch sustained a head wound and fractures in both legs, her right ankle and foot, and right arm. Initial reports that cited gunshot and stab wounds proved to be inaccurate.
- The latest casualty toll, according to the Pentagon: 106 U.S. and British troops dead, 15 Americans missing. An estimated 8,000 Iraqis have been taken prisoner. Iraqi officials claim the civilian death toll alone is more than 1,250 and more than 5,000 have been injured.
— Ethan Zindler
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