Saddam’s Status Still Unknown; Ground, Air Battles Rage On

Pockets of resistance in Baghdad fight freely-moving coalition forces.

[This story was updated on 04.08.2003 at 9:30 p.m. ET.]

With Saddam Hussein’s status still unknown, battles in Baghdad raged on late Tuesday in the air and on the ground.

Bombs dropped on day 21 of Operation Iraqi Freedom destroyed several
targets, including the ruling Baath Party headquarters, the Iraqi
Information Ministry and various gatherings of the Special Republican Guard, according to CNN.

Meanwhile, coalition troops are said to mostly be moving freely throughout the Iraqi capital, with the exception of a few pockets of resistance, which have led to some fierce shootouts.

While fighting in Baghdad, U.S. soldiers discovered a 12-room complex inside a cave with white marble floors and fluorescent lighting, one of several hideouts they believe Hussein may be using if he was not in fact killed in a strategic airstrike Monday (see “Saddam Hussein May Be Dead After U.S. Airstrike, Officials Say” ). A witness said 14 people were killed, according to AFP, a French news agency, but their identities remain unknown.

“I don’t know whether he survived,” President Bush said Tuesday (April 8) in Northern Ireland, where he was meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. “The only thing I know is he’s losing power.”

At U.S. Central Command in Qatar, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said it was not known if the mission was a success. “As to who was inside and what their conditions are, it will take time to determine,” Brooks said. “We may never be able to determine who was present.”

Following weeks of air and land strikes against Iraqi military targets, the coalition has achieved air supremacy over the entire country, the Pentagon said in a briefing. (Click for map of the battlefield.)

“There are still some orders being given by somebody, [but] they don’t seem to be the best of orders or very well coordinated,” Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke said.

To date, coalition forces have flown over 30,000 plane sorties and dropped over 20,000 total munitions. Between 70 and 80 percent of the strikes have been with precision or laser-guided bombs and missiles, and the attacks have effectively disrupted most of Iraq’s command and control capabilities.

The Pentagon refused to put a timeframe on when the fighting might end, stating that the war will continue until coalition forces can move freely around the city without any resistance.

Reports out of Baghdad suggest the city has suffered significant civilian casualties. Abu Dhabi TV in Iraq claims that over 1,250 civilians have died in the attacks on Baghdad and over 5,103 have been wounded. Hospitals are reportedly jammed with patients. The water supply is shrinking rapidly and many parts of the city are without electricity.

The exodus from Baghdad also continues, with thousands of civilians fleeing the city for points east as hostilities escalate.

Over 7,000 Iraqi soldiers have been taken as prisoners of war so far, and many members of the Republican Guard have sunken into the residential areas of Baghdad, where they may be preparing for the next phase of combat.

A Reuters cameraman was killed and five others were injured when a U.S. tank fired on the Palestine Hotel on Tuesday, where much of the world’s media in Baghdad is staying. The Pentagon said the hotel was attacked because there were reports of shots fired from the building at coalition troops.

Clarke stressed that the coalition forces continue to exhibit great restraint when it comes to risking innocent lives.

In a separate incident, an al Jazeera reporter was killed when another tank and a plane fired on the Arab television network’s offices, which are near Iraq’s Ministry of Information.

Despite the reported successes of the U.S. military in recent days, the Iraqi regime’s spokesperson continued to strike a defiant tone Tuesday.

“They are going to surrender or be burned in their tanks,” Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told reporters in front of the Palestine Hotel Tuesday. “Baghdad is bracing itself to pummel the invaders.”

Other recent key developments:

  • The United Nations should have a central role in Iraq’s reconstruction, but the Iraqi people will run the country following the war, Blair said Tuesday.

  • After a brutal battle on Tuesday, members of the U.S. Army’s 101st
    Airborne Division defeated Fedayeen Saddam fighters for control of Hillah, a city about 50 miles south of Baghdad, according to CNN.

  • Marines fighting their way into Baghdad from the east seized an airport, found enough ammunition for an estimated 3,000 troops and captured a prison where they found Army uniforms and chemical weapons suits, possibly belonging to U.S. POWs.

  • A U.S. A-10 “Wart Hog” fighter jet was downed by an Iraqi missile Tuesday near Baghdad airport. The pilot ejected and survived.

  • The British have installed a local Muslim cleric to help govern the city of Basra.

  • Only 19 of the original 800 Republican Guard tanks remain intact as a result of heavy U.S. attacks, according to the Pentagon.

  • Only one oil well fire still burns in southern Iraq. Specialists have been systematically extinguishing the handful of fires that were set at the start of the war. The U.S. says it has secured 900 of the 1,000 oil wells in the region. Oil production has not re-started. Crude oil has been trading at much lower price levels on the international market since the outbreak of war.

  • Jessica Lynch’s father spoke to the media after seeing his daughter for the first time since her rescue by U.S. Special Forces last week. “Her spirits was real high and we was real glad to see her. We was kinda figuring it’d be a lot worse,” Greg Lynch said after visiting with her at Landstuhl U.S. military hospital in Germany.

  • U.S. public support for President Bush has grown since the start of the war, according to a new poll. Today, 80 percent consider Bush a strong leader, up from 76 percent before the war, according to a CNN/ USA Today poll. Seventy percent say he inspires confidence. And 71 percent approve of the job Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is doing.

  • The latest casualty count: 121 U.S. and British troops killed, 14 missing. More than 8,000 Iraqis have been taken prisoner of war, according to the Pentagon. The total number of Iraqi civilians and soldiers killed is unknown.

—Corey Moss, Jon Wiederhorn and Ethan Zindler

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