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American Forces Shift Gears in Baghdad

American Forces Shift Gears in Baghdad

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- As organized military resistance in the Iraqi capital collapsed, American forces were shifting gears, planning to keep pushing into Baghdad whenever and wherever opportunity arise, a senior Defense Department official said Wednesday.

That's a change of tactics, with troops no longer needing to continue in-and-out forays begun over the weekend to clean out resistance in the capital piece-by-piece.

American forces were reported in control in a number locations around the capital, including the industrial area and government district.

Pentagon officials cautioned that there were still small pockets of resistance inside and around Baghdad and some moving around of Iraqi forces. There also were other parts of the country where more fighting was possible, they said.

One question mark, for instance, was what would happen in Baghdad's residential areas, where officials say it is possible some Iraqi forces have taken refuge and could try to regroup.

But war commanders hoped that this was the "tipping point" they had sought -- a point where the regime would collapse amid the realization by Iraqi troops and civilians that Saddam's rule was over.

"What you're seeing is a recognition that the regime is gone and will never return again," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told a press conference at the war's command center in Qatar.

Defense Department officials said the situation was fluid and they were still trying to sort out the tactical meaning of encouraging overnight developments.

With more combat expected, it was too early to say, for instance, when troops might focus more on efforts to keep order in the city, one official said.

At police stations, universities, government ministries, the headquarters of the Iraq Olympic Committee, looters unhindered by any police presence made off with computers, furniture, even military jeeps. Iraqis danced in the streets, waving rifles, palm fronds and flags, thrusting their arms in the air and flashing the V-for-victory sign.

The whereabouts of Saddam Hussein remained unknown after a massive bombing on a suspected hiding place Monday.

U.S. forces were spread through quite a bit of Baghdad, officials said, though they didn't have an update of the percent of the city taken.

Aside from Baghdad, there was a question of how much work remained in the north of the country.

There were still remnants of Iraq's regular army in the northern areas of Kirkuk and Mosul and it was unclear whether they would fight or fold amid the crumbling of control in Baghdad.

Some of Saddam's more elite Republican Guard forces were believed still in his birthplace and northern stronghold of Tikrit, some 100 miles north of Baghdad.

One official said it was possible that remaining regime officials would try to make a stand in Tikrit.

A relatively smaller ground component of special operations forces was working with local Kurdish fighting forces in the north.

The coalition has been using air strikes nightly in an effort to degrade military units there.

Officials couldn't explain the absence of government minders and

officials who had been making daily television appearances, in which they routinely denied Americans were overtaking the regime.

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

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