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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. forces battled the tattered remnants of Iraq's army for control of downtown Baghdad on Tuesday, crushing a counterattack and seizing a military airport. Saddam Hussein's fate was unknown after an attempt to kill him from the air.
Inside the capital to stay, some Army units routed Iraqi fighters from a Republican Guard headquarters. Others discovered a 12-room complex inside a cave, complete with white marble floors, 10-foot ceilings and fluorescent lighting.
Marines battled snipers as they fought deeper into the capital from the east. They seized the Rasheed Airport and captured enough ammunition for an estimated 3,000 troops. Ominously, they also took a prison where they found U.S. Army uniforms and chemical weapons suits possibly belonging to American POWs.
On the city's northern side, Army forces set a Republican Guard barracks ablaze. Warplanes flew their bombing runs unchallenged, and smoke poured out of the Ministry of Planning building in the city's center.
"We are continuing to maintain our ability to conduct operations around and in Baghdad, and remove them from regime control" said Capt. Frank Thorp, a spokesman at U.S. Central Command.
State-run Iraqi television was knocked off the air, depriving the regime of a key source of influence over a population thought increasingly eager to help the forces of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Four days after Americans first penetrated the Baghdad outskirts, the city showed the effects of the war. Civilians roamed the streets with Kalashnikov rifles in hand, uncollected garbage piled up, and there were long lines at the reduced number of gasoline stations still open.
The toll on civilians from four days of urban combat was unknown. But the World Health Organization said Baghdad's hospitals were running out of supplies to treat the burns, shrapnel wounds and spinal injuries caused by the fighting.
There were military losses for the Americans amid the gains.
An A-10 "Warthog" warplane was shot down near Baghdad early in the day, believed to be the first fixed-wing aircraft downed by an Iraqi surface-to-air missile since the war began. U.S. Central Command said the pilot ejected safely, was recovered by ground forces and was in good condition.
A U.S. F-15E jet fighter and its two-man crew also have been missing since Sunday, the military announced Tuesday. It was not known what happened to the plane.
Outside the capital, U.S. jets bombed Iraqi positions near the northern city of Kirkuk, which remained under control of the regime. In the southeastern city of Amarah, Marines seized the airport and an ammunition dump without resistance.
In Basra, a southern city of 1.3 million people under British control at last, military officials appointed a local sheik as a civilian commander, the first replacement administration put into place anywhere in the country.
Postwar government was a key topic for a summit meeting that brought President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Northern Ireland. Both men talked of a U.N. role inside Iraq once the fighting is over, and sought to minimize splits on who should govern and rebuild the country.
In the meantime, they trumpeted the battlefield successes of the American and British forces, and said Saddam's days were numbered.
"I don't know whether he survived," a bombing attack on Monday, Bush said of the Iraqi leader. "The only thing I know is that he's losing power."
Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations said he believed Saddam had escaped the bombing of a site where he and at least one son were believed to have been meeting on Monday.
There was no direct evidence either way, though.
The site remained in Iraqi hands, although Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said American troops hoped to get there soon.
At the Pentagon, Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said eliminating Saddam would be significant, even if it didn't cause the immediate end of the resistance. "He still controls elements of the Special Republican Guard and death squads," he said.
Officials ordered the attack after getting intelligence that Saddam was at the facility. Officials said four bunker-busting bombs were dropped by a single B-1B bomber, which was diverted in flight from its original target. McChrystal said only 45 minutes elapsed between the time the intelligence reached military officials and when the bombs fell.
"I was never prouder to be in the Air Force," said Lt. Col. Fred Swan, the bombardier aboard the warplane that carried out the mission.
The precision-guided 2,000-pound munitions left a smoking crater 60 feet deep in the upscale al-Mansour section of western Baghdad. A young woman's severed head and torso and a small boy's body were pulled from a crater made by the blasts, so powerful they yanked up orange trees from their roots.
The bombing marked the second time that Americans had targeted Saddam for death in the war. Bush personally approved a missile strike on March 20 in Baghdad, the opening salvo of the military campaign to topple his regime.
Among the civilian casualties were journalists covering the war.
Two cameramen were killed and at least three others wounded when an American tank fired a round into the Palestine Hotel, headquarters for hundreds of journalists. Commanders said hostile fire had been coming from the building, although the journalists said they witnessed none.
Separately, the Arab television network al-Jazeera reported that a U.S. warplane attacked its office on the banks of the Tigris River, killing a reporter.
The Iraqi counterattack began shortly after dawn when an estimated 500 Iraqis jumped off trucks and buses, firing assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades at Army forces holding a key intersection in the western part of the city.
Two A-10 warplanes were called in to provide air cover, strafing building tops and directing 30 mm rapid cannon fire against the Iraqis. "They're a beautiful thing," said Capt. Philip Wolford, a company commander with the 3rd Infantry Division, as the jets roared overhead.
He said at least 50 Iraqis were killed in the attack, and the rest routed. Two U.S. soldiers were reported wounded, one seriously, by snipers on nearby rooftops.
Marines combed the site of a Republican Guard junior training facility, and came across 15 bunkers full of rifles, anti-aircraft artillery, missile systems, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons. "It's the largest cache of weapons since we crossed the border" from Kuwait, said Capt. Shaine Grodack. He estimated the cache was big enough to arm a regimental force -- a few thousands soldiers.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)