US seizes three of Saddam's palaces
US forces seized three Iraqi presidential palaces, including Saddam Hussein's main facility in the heart of Baghdad.world Updated: Apr 07, 2003 19:38 IST
A United States infantry officer told Fox news on Monday that US soldiers took an American Flag into the presidential palace in Iraq's capital.
The officer claimed ownership of Baghdad in a conversation with Fox newsman Greg Kelly, who was broadcasting live by videophone.
"Saddam Hussein says he owns Baghdad. We own Baghdad. We own his palaces; we own downtown. ... the Third Infantry Division officer told Fox News Channel.
The infantry officer then said he intended to "turn on one of the golden faucets in Saddam Hussein's bathroom" and take his first shower in a month.
US forces seized three Iraqi presidental palaces, including Saddam Hussein's main facility in the heart of Baghdad, a senior US officer said.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Bayer, operations officer for the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division, said US troops had "secured the main presidential palace" and another palace in the city center as well as a third near the airport.
"There are two palaces (in the city centre), we own both of them," Bayer told reporters.
He said they were captured by the division's second brigade which sent two tank battalions and a mechanized infantry battalion into the city where they came under attack by small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.
The palace by the airport, which is southwest of Baghdad, was taken by the division's first brigade with no opposition, Bayer said.
Tanks and armoured vehicles thrust deeper into the city than at any point since the US-led invasion began on March 20.
Planes dropped at least two bombs on downtown Baghdad and shells crashed into a presidential palace on the eastern outskirts after dawn broke on the 19th day of the war. Black smoke billowed over the capital.
"We're attacking right down in the centre of the city right now," said Major Michael Birmingham, chief public affairs officer for the US 3rd Infantry.
"The other day was just an incursion. This is for real," he added, referring to a foray US armoured forces made into southwestern Baghdad on Saturday.
US forces have tightened their noose around Baghdad by taking over the international airport southwest of the capital and seizing control of most of the highways leading out of the sprawling city of five million people.
Fierce close-quarters fighting has raged in cities across Iraq. British forces have moved deep into Basra in the south, although they remain cautious about how much of Iraq's second city they control.
US troops said on Monday they had taken control of Kerbala, 110 km southeast of Baghdad, after fierce battles with Iraqi paramilitaries threatening US supply lines.
SMOKE OVER BAGHDAD
Black smoke billowed from near a presidential compound in the centre of Baghdad after defenders apparently lit a trench full of oil as a smokescreen.
Nine or 10 bombs slammed into the eastern suburbs, followed by heavy artillery fire.
It was the first time that an oil trench, previously used around the outskirts, had been lit beside the palace during the 19-day-old war.
"Two tanks are in the presidential compound," the Reuters correspondent said from a vantage point about 500 metres away from one of Saddam's main palaces.
As US and British aircraft and armour extended their control of Iraqi territory, the issue of how the country would be run in a post-Saddam era loomed increasingly large.
President George W. Bush, who launched the war saying he wanted to eliminate the threat of chemical or biological weapons falling into the wrong hands, was due to meet key ally British Prime Minister Tony Blair later on Monday to discuss a possible UN role in the new Iraq.
US officials have ruled out a key political mission for the United Nations, saying Washington and its allies earned that right by giving "life and blood" on the battlefield. Blair and other European leaders want the UN Security Council to endorse the post-war process.
Bush and Blair failed to win Security Council approval to go to war over their charge that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction -- accusations that Iraq denies. The US military said on Sunday it had yet to find any such arms in Iraq.
US-led forces, who sent armored columns on raids into parts of Baghdad over the weekend, were "just about there" in their mission to control all roads into the city, a US commander said on Sunday.
US military officials, reporting a total of 80 deaths on their side in the war so far, said more than 2,000 Iraqi troops had been killed in the Baghdad raids.
In yet another case of US forces mistakenly targeting their own men or allies, witnesses and Kurdish sources said a US warplane bombed American special forces and their Kurdish allies on Sunday, killing at least 18 people.
A coordinator for the World Health Organisation, Jim Tulloch, said from Kuwait that the agency was hearing reports of hundreds of civilian deaths in the war and thousands of wounded civilians.
"The exact numbers don't really matter. There is for us no acceptable level of civilian casualties," Tulloch said.
"(They) are made up of individuals, children who have third degree burns, children who have had to have their limbs amputated and will never walk again, pregnant women who are having miscarriages," he said.
"We feel it is extremely important to call on all parties involved in this war to do absolutely everything possible to minimize civilian casualties."
The United States says it is taking precautions to avoid civilian casualties, but Baghdad's hospitals are packed to overflowing with wounded residents of the capital.
One of them is Ali Ismaeel Abbas, 12, who was fast asleep when a missile obliterated his home and most of his family, leaving him orphaned, badly burned and missing both his arms.
"Can you help get my arms back? Do you think the doctors can get me another pair of hands?" Abbas asked. "If I don't get a pair of hands I will commit suicide," he said with tears spilling down his cheeks.
In Basra, pro-Saddam militiamen with AK-47 assault rifles opened fire on civilian vehicles, wounding one man, in an attempt to force civilians to fight U.S. and British troops, witnesses said.
The wounded man, Waleed Ja'awil, 18, was riding in the back of a pick-up truck when Baath party militiamen dressed in civilian clothes shot at the farmer and his three cousins.
The United States has named retired US General Jay Garner to head an interim civil administration that would hand power to an Iraqi government once some stability had been restored. Garner was due to address a news conference on Monday but canceled it at the last minute with no explanation.
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said on Sunday it would take more than six months for an Iraqi government to be created to run the country after Saddam had been defeated.
The dollar spurted to multi-week highs against major currencies on Monday on expectations that the war in Iraq may end before long.
First Published: Apr 07, 2003 10:01 IST