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Fierce Battle Near Baghdad

Fierce Battle Near Baghdad

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Iraqi fighters in northern Baghdad's Imam Mosque opened fire Thursday on U.S. Marines who were hunting for regime leaders, triggering a fierce battle.

Marines from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force had been scouring the area after U.S. officers received a tip that regime leaders were trying to organize a meeting there, at the house of a senior Baath Party official.

The "intense fighting" took place near the Az Amihyah Palace and the party official's house, Central Command spokesman Frank Thorp said. He did not have information on casualties, although officers in the area reported one Marine killed and up to 20 others wounded in fighting at the palace.

Thorp said Iraqi forces opened fire from the area of the mosque, a large compound with a retaining wall, and the Marines shot back. He said the mosque was in good condition, but he didn't know if it had been hit.

Thorp said he did not know if President Saddam Hussein was among leaders trying to meet at the party official's home. He said he had no information on whether anyone was captured or killed in the battle.

Another Central Command spokesman said Iraqi fighters in the mosque were part of "pockets of intense resistance" in Baghdad.

"We know that the mosque was used, and the area around it, for fighting positions for that intense fight that occurred this morning, and the assessments of the fight are ongoing," said Brig Gen. Vincent Brooks.

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

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