5 US Marines killed in Iraq
Five Marines were killed when their armoured troop carrier was hit by Iraqi artillery near Baghdad.Updated: Apr 08, 2003 13:16 IST
US troops stormed into the heart of Baghdad on Monday, seizing Saddam Hussein's new presidential palace on the Tigris River in a brazen daylight show of force.
US tanks also briefly surrounded the information ministry and Al-Rashid Hotel.
More than 70 tanks and 60 Bradley fighting vehicles took part in the raid under cover of tank-killing A10 Warthog planes and pilotless drones.
Four or five Marines were killed when their armoured troop carrier took a direct hit from artillery shell at a bridge over a canal on the outskirts of Baghdad, according to Lt Col B P McCoy of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. About a half hour later, Marines swarmed into the capital on foot, crossing a bridge spanning a canal at the south edge of the city, meeting little resistance.
Also, a group of US armoured personnel carriers in southern Baghdad was hit by rockets, according to field reports. Six American soldiers were reported missing and a large number wounded.
There was no estimate of Iraqi casualties from the raids, but about 100 Iraqis in military uniform were killed in fighting at Baghdad's international airport in a seven-hour battle that ended shortly after midnight.
Capt Frank Thorp, a Central Command spokesman, characterised the movement as another raid through the city and not a seizure of any territory or targets.
When asked if US troops would remain inside Baghdad, Thorp said he would not discuss future plans.
"What you're seeing here is similar to what we saw on Saturday, with an armoured raid through the city," he said.
US officials have said that up to 3,000 Iraqi fighters may have been killed in that initial incursion.
On Monday, tanks of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division barrelled into the capital on the western side of the Tigris at 6:00 am. As they approached Baghdad along Highway 8, they met moderate resistance - mostly assault fire and rocket-propelled grenades from infantry.
"I do believe this city is freakin' ours," boasted Capt Chris Carter.
However, Iraq's information minister declared, "I reassure you Baghdad is safe."
"They are beginning to commit suicide at the walls of Baghdad," Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf told reporters in a hastily called news conference outside the Palestine Hotel. "There is no presence of the American columns in the city of Baghdad, none at all."
By noon, explosions and small-arms and machine gun fire continued from the southern section of the Old Palace compound, 5 km from the New Palace. The intensity suggested a fierce battle between US troops and Iraqi defenders.
Iraq radio broadcast a religious sermon exhorting Iraqis to fight and denouncing the United States and Britain. Iraqi TV broadcast patriotic songs, footage of Iraqis chanting slogans in support of Saddam and archival material of the Iraqi leader firing a gun and greeting crowds of Iraqis.
The US Army columns moved northeast to the newest and main presidential palace on the river, which divides the capital. The palace, which is near Saddam's Baath Party headquarters, apparently was mainly residential rather than used for administrative purposes. The party headquarters have been destroyed, although it wasn't clear when the damage was done.
Iraqis -- some nearly naked -- fled along its banks. Some jumped into the water. An ammunition depot across the river was on fire.
Before the Americans seized the complex, Iraqis shot small arms fire at them from a clock tower overlooking the compound. Tanks quickly destroyed it.
Attack Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry entered the palace compound. Inside the bombed-out palace, troops rifled through documents and inventoried the building. Some rooms had spectacular river views. A thick layer of dust covered gilded, imitation French baroque furniture.
The main palace building -- sand-coloured brick ornamented with blue tile -- was flooded in the basement and first floor. The rest of the building appeared to be destroyed, hit by cruise missiles or laser-guided bombs.
Palace curtains were strewn over the ground, blown from their windows by the explosions. Most of the compound was severely damaged from prior US raids.
Troops rifled through documents in the bombed-out compound, and helped themselves to ashtrays, pillows, gold-painted Arab glassware and other souvenirs.
Col. David Perkins, a brigade commander, told his troops before the operation that the mission was intended to be a demonstration of force to prove that US forces could move about the city at will.
He said another palace on the eastern side of the Tigris was being attacked. "I hope this makes it clear to the Iraqi people that this (the regime) is over and that they can now enjoy their new freedom," Perkins said.
Perkins said the resistance coming into the city was heavier than expected: He had thought most Iraqi defences were wiped out Saturday, but Iraqi troops laid new minefields and set up many new firing positions.
On entering the city, the Bradleys and tanks took up fighting positions around the presidential palace.
US troops had to pass through a 400-metre minefield to approach the area. About 200 anti-tank mines that had been scattered on the road were pushed aside by US armour fitted with devices to move them without detonating them.
US forces also briefly surrounded the information ministry and Al-Rashid Hotel, which was used by foreign reporters as a base during the 1991 Gulf War. At the time, the US government alleged that the building housed a military communications centre.
After the Americans moved on Monday, armed Iraqi militiamen were at the gate of the ministry and Iraqi army troops were at one corner of the building. Militiamen behind sandbags cheered at passing media buses.
As US troops penetrated the city on Monday, members of Saddam's fidayeen paramilitary fighters prevented journalists from leaving the Palestine Hotel, where many were staying.
Iraqi troops did not use any mortars or artillery against the American forces.
F-16 fighter jets flew ahead of the US armoured column, bombing any tanks or armoured personnel carriers along the way. US troops also fired mortars on key intersections before passing through. Tanks took up positions around key points.
Black smoke clogged the air and covered the city.
The assault on Baghdad followed a weekend of incursions by US forces in tanks and armoured personnel carriers. Troops rolled through streets of the capital "destroying all of the enemy vehicles and personnel with whom they've come in contact," Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Sunday.
"One of the points is to destroy the enemy that we found, and the last two raids have been very, very successful at doing that," he said.
Intermittent explosions were heard in the city Sunday night into Monday, along with periodic anti-aircraft fire. Shortly before dawn, aircraft could be heard over the capital and heavier explosions shook downtown buildings, echoing from the southern outskirts.
After sunrise, a long series of blasts rocked Baghdad and dark grey smoke rose on the horizon to the south and southwest. Residents could hear what seemed to be the sound of surface-to-surface rockets, artillery and aircraft.
First Published: Apr 08, 2003 00:00 IST