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U.S. Tanks Roll Into Baghdad

U.S. Tanks Roll Into Baghdad

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(AP) U.S. Army tanks rumbled into Baghdad early Saturday for the first time, while columns of armored vehicles began encircling the city of 5 million people and seat of Saddam Hussein's power. Thousands of Iraqis fled the city, fearing urban warfare.

The Iraqi capital was breached by a reconnaissance force of 3rd Infantry. It came as Army tanks and infantry fought off attacks at newly seized Baghdad's international airport.

With U.S. commandos already inside Baghdad, columns of Army and Marine armored vehicles advanced from the south. They met occasionally stiff resistance, battling Iraqi tanks as well as army, Republican Guard and Fedayeen forces.

"They're pretty much cut off in all directions," Air Force Cpt. Dani Burrows said Saturday morning. "Pretty much what you've got here is a chokehold around Baghdad."

American forces closed in as Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf threatened "very new, creative" martyrdom operations -- often a euphemism for suicide attacks -- but denied weapons of mass destruction would be involved.

Saddam appeared on television -- seemingly debunking American-fed speculation that he was dead -- and urged his country to "strike them (advancing troops) forcefully."

But the Marines reported the surrender of 2,500 members of the Republican Guard, American and British warplanes bombed targets virtually at will for the 16th straight day, and the administration projected increasing confidence.

"We are almost in control of their country, and we'll be in complete control soon," Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington, as President Bush met with Iraqi exiles to discuss a postwar governing entity.

The White House also announced that Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair would meet next week in Northern Ireland, the second face-to-face talk for the war allies since the fighting began.

More than two weeks into Operation Iraqi Freedom, there were fresh setbacks for the Americans, and no shortage of scares.

A car bomb killed three uniformed personnel at a checkpoint when a pregnant woman jumped from the vehicle screaming for help. Iraqi television reported two women had carried out a suicide attack, apparently the same incident.

Two pilots were killed when a Marine Cobra attack helicopter crashed in central Iraq, the military. The cause of the crash was not immediately known.

Troops south of Baghdad found thousands of boxes of suspicious white powder, nerve agent antidote and Arabic documents detailing procedures for chemical warfare. Initial reports showed the powder to be explosives rather than weapons of mass destruction, according to one senior U.S. official, although additional investigation was planned.

A defense official also said Marines fired on a truck that refused to stop at a checkpoint south of Baghdad, killing an undisclosed number of civilians. ABC said seven died, three children among them, adding they were in a vehicle behind a military truck that tried to crash through the roadblock.

There was continued fighting in several areas of the country.

In the north, air attacks cleared the way for Kurdish forces to seize a key bridge at Khazer, near the major city of Mosul.

In the southern of city of Basra, where Iraqis have held out for days, Saddam's forces shelled British troops.

But increasingly, the focus was on the combat around Baghdad.

Hours after U.S. forces entered the airport, fighting continued. Lt. Cmdr Mark Johnson said he could see battles near the airport and in several other places around the city as he flew overhead on a bombing run. "There was lots of smoke and fire all along the roads leading into Baghdad, around the airport in particular," he said.

In Washington, a senior administration official said the airport was under U.S. control but not considered secured, in part because it was within range of artillery inside the capital city.

Inside the facility after Thursday's all-night tank and infantry battle, American troops swiftly renamed it. Saddam International Airport no longer, it is now Baghdad International Airport.

American troops moved through its underground tunnels to clear them of danger.

One brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, helicopters included, arrived to use the grounds as a base of operation close to the capital. The 101st is highly trained in urban warfare.

"We are fighting in urban terrain now, and to be effective, in this terrain you need light infantry forces. This is their forte," said Col. John Peabody of the 3rd Infantry Division.

A few miles to the east, in a city largely blacked out since Thursday, Iraqis fled northward, away from advancing Americans. Vehicles of every description loaded with men, women, children and their possessions clogged exit routes in backups that stretched for miles.

At the same time, thousands of army troops and militiamen dug more trenches and foxholes.

American commanders were close-mouthed about the next part of the battle plan for Baghdad, although Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told reporters that American commandos were "in key locations" in the capital.

Marines advanced from the southeast, rolling through villages and towns past now familiar sites of discarded Iraqi military uniforms. Crowds sometimes lined the roads, and some Iraqis voiced their hopes in a blend of English and Arabic.

"Thank you. Thank you. Baghdad, Baghdad. Yallah (Go). Yallah," they said.

Army troops advanced on Baghdad, as well, and tank units intercepted a battalion of Republican Guard armor about 25 miles outside the city. The Americans called in air cover, and reported the destruction of 10 Iraqi tanks.

The war claimed the life of an American journalist for the first time. Michael Kelly, editor-at-large for The Atlantic Monthly, died Thursday along with a U.S. soldier when their Humvee went into a canal.

Flag-draped coffins carrying Americans killed in action were received at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, along with nine sets of remains found buried outside an Iraqi hospital where a U.S. prisoner of war was rescued earlier in the week. Military officials said the unidentified remains were believed to be those of U.S. soldiers.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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