[This story was updated on 04.10.03 at 4:33 p.m. ET.]
A day after Iraqis raucously celebrated the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in central Baghdad, fighting continued in the capital and along the war’s northern front.
One Marine was killed and 22 were wounded during a raid of a mosque in Baghdad on Thursday afternoon (April 10). And coalition forces experienced a sobering act of terrorism when a suicide bomber in civilian clothes walked up to a checkpoint in downtown Baghdad and blew himself up, seriously injuring four Marines.
“This certainly reinforces the dangers that will remain,” said Major Gen. Stanley McChrystal in a Pentagon briefing.
Coalition forces made progress in other areas. The strategically important and oil-rich town of Kirkuk is now under the control of U.S. and Kurdish forces, according to a Pentagon spokesperson. As in Baghdad the day before, U.S. forces were greeted warmly there by civilians who drove down city streets, honking horns and waving the yellow flag of independent Kurdistan and civilians toppled another tall statue of Saddam Hussein. Others looted local government offices and some stores. (Click here for images from the front.)
Even so, U.S. officials said they expect to see continued heavy fighting in northern Iraq. “I would say again that we fully expect that there are fierce battles ahead, that there continues to be resistance and that the overall objective of bringing down the regime has not yet been achieved. But it will be,” Captain Frank Thorp told reporters at Central Command in Qatar.
CNN reported that Iraqi soldiers who shed their uniforms have been seen heading for Tikrit, Hussein’s ancestral hometown, which could become the region of the regime’s last stand. The area is believed to be heavily guarded by Sadaam’s elite fighting force.
However, at press time CNN was reporting that 40,000 Iraqi soldiers in the northern stronghold of Mosul were on the verge of surrender. Those expected to give up include a military commander and a military governor.
Sporadic gun battles continued in isolated parts of Baghdad, and there was mass looting in the streets. Citizens broke into and trashed the home of Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and the nerve center for the Iraqi secret police. And in the southern city of Najaf, a mob murdered two Shiite Muslim clerics near a shrine, Reuters reported. One of the religious leaders was a loyalist of Saddam, the other was a leader returning from exile who had shown support for the coalition.
As citizens across the country came to grips with the post-Saddam era, the coalition broadcast messages from George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair over Iraqi television. Prior to the collapse of Hussein’s regime, the Iraqi citizens were told by the their government that America was intent on invading and westernizing the country. They were also told that Bush wanted to take over the nation and install a new American government.
“Our only enemy is Saddam’s brutal regime — and that regime is your enemy as well,” announced Bush. “In the new era that is coming to Iraq, your country will no longer be held captive to the will of a cruel dictator. You will be free to build a better life, instead of building more palaces for Saddam and his sons, free to pursue economic prosperity without the hardship of economic sanctions, free to travel and speak your mind, free to join in the political affairs of Iraq. The government of Iraq and the future of your country will soon belong to you.”
Added Blair: “I know that some of you feared a repeat of 1991, when you thought Saddam’s rule was being ended, but he stayed, and you suffered. That will not happen this time. This regime will be gone. And then we will work with you to build the peaceful, prosperous Iraq that you want and deserve.”
A number of civilians told CNN that they had expected a long and protracted fight between U.S. and Iraqi troops and had stocked significant amounts of food and water at home as a result. The Pentagon said that large amounts of food are being sent to all areas of the country and that electricity and running water were either operative or were being restored. Still, Red Cross officials warned that a humanitarian crisis looms in Baghdad. CNN reported that hospitals across the city have been looted and medication and vital medical equipment have been stolen.
On Wednesday in central Baghdad, jubilant citizens tore down and destroyed posters and plaques of Saddam Hussein. They wrapped a noose around a statue of the former dictator and tore the symbol of oppression from its pedestal. Many stomped on the head of the statue, which was later decapitated and dragged through the streets.
Residents also stormed abandoned government buildings and made off with computers, office chairs, air conditioners, ashtrays and whatever else they could carry.
Despite the upbeat mood and reports that coalition forces expected to double their troop strength in Baghdad, the U.S. government said that the coalition’s work in Iraq is far from over.
“There is a great deal of work to do and many unfinished missions before victory can be declared,” Rumsfeld said. “The tide is turning. The regime has been dealt a serious blow, but coalition forces won’t stop until they have finished the job.” (Click for a map of the battlefield.)
Despite ongoing concerns from U.S. officials, signs that the Hussein regime has collapsed were unmistakable on Wednesday. No Iraqi police were visible on the streets of Baghdad as residents celebrated and looted. The result was ecstatic chaos in some neighborhoods.
Late Wednesday, Mohammed Al-Douri, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations, said he has lost touch with Saddam’s government in Baghdad. “The game is over,” he said. “I hope peace will prevail and the Iraqi people at the end of the day will have a peaceful life.”
U.S. military successes have come at a cost, however. Reports out of Baghdad suggest the city has suffered significant civilian casualties. Abu Dhabi TV in Iraq claims that more than 1,250 have died in the attacks on Baghdad and more than 5,100 have been wounded.
Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi opposition party and the Pentagon’s first choice to be the next leader of Iraq, expressed frustration that the U.S. hasn’t provided more humanitarian aid and support for a cohesive transfer of power.
Meanwhile, opposition groups said Wednesday they have information Saddam survived and has escaped along with at least one of his sons, Chalabi told CNN.
Other recent key developments:
— Corey Moss, Jon Wiederhorn and Ethan Zindler
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