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100 Iraqis Reportedly Killed at Airport

100 Iraqis Reportedly Killed at Airport

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OUTSKIRTS OF BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. forces fended off attacks by Iraqi fighters roaming the edges of Baghdad's airport in a seven-hour battle, then crushed similar but sporadic raids Monday. U.S. commanders estimated that 150 Iraqis were killed, but there were no U.S. casualties.

The fighting began hours after a giant C-130 transport plane landed -- the first known arrival of a U.S. plane in the Iraqi capital since the airport fell into American hands last week.

Inside a VIP building, the troops found a hideaway believed to have been used by President Saddam Hussein. It features a rose garden, a hand-carved mahogany door, gold-plated bathroom fixtures and an office with a false door that leads to the basement, where soldiers found weapons.

The battle between members of the Army's 101st Airborne Division and uniformed Iraqi soldiers began just before sundown Sunday, with probing attacks from the Iraqis at the perimeter of the 13-square-mile airport.

The Americans called in artillery and airstrikes. A bomb aimed at a crane at a palace near the airport missed its target but knocked off a sniper and damaged the palace.

That initial battle ended around 1 a.m. Monday, but Iraqi soldiers -- shooting mortars and direct fire -- tried to breach the perimeter of the airport six more times through the night, according to Lt. Col. Lee Fetterman, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne.

All of that fighting raged within 1,000 yards, but some Iraqis got as close as 200 yards to U.S. troops. American commanders called in the Air Force to bomb two Iraqi military compounds near the airport, then used TOW missiles to take out three observation towers where Iraqis had been directing the attacks.

The airport, captured in an all-night battle last week, is expected to be a major resupply base for American forces and a key to channeling aid to Iraqi civilians. It offers critical landing strips that will let the military hopscotch over the 350-mile supply line that stretches from the capital to U.S. bases in Kuwait.

Troops of the 101st fortified their position at the airport Sunday, digging trenches and bulldozing sand berms. Two weapons caches -- including one with 12 crates of shoulder-fired missiles -- were found just outside the airport grounds. Troops also found 35 French-made Roland surface-to-air missiles in the airport complex.

"It's fine right now," Staff Sgt. Jeremy Reed, 29, of Dothan, Ala., said as blasts of artillery fire whizzed overhead. "We know who's shooting at who."

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

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