Troops Keep Up Baghdad Blitz

A U.S. Marine with India Co., 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, crosses an open field as a fire rages following air and artillery strikes at an Iraqi army training camp southeast of Baghdad Sunday, April 6, 2003.
U.S. pressure in and around Baghdad intensified Sunday.

A Marine battalion overran a Republican Guard headquarters and seized one of Saddam Hussein's palaces south of the city. Overhead, U.S. warplanes were flying around the clock, coordinating precision strikes in support of upcoming ground attacks.

The new round of attacks came after Saturday's 25-mile incursion through an industrial section of southern Baghdad in which up to 3,000 Iraqi fighters were killed.

In addition to the fighting on the southern edges of the city, coalition troops were "preventing enemy movement in and out of the city in certain places around the city," said Capt. Frank Thorp, a U.S. Central Command spokesman at Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar.

"Baghdad is being isolated," he said.

U.S. forces have troops stationed around three-quarters of Baghdad's perimeter: the 3rd Infantry Division along the south and southwest edges of the city; 1st Division Marines on both sides of the Tigris to the southeast; and — according to a U.S. military official speaking on condition of anonymity — at key points just to the north and northwest. That leaves only the northeast arc around Baghdad free of American forces.

In other major developments:

  • Coalition aircraft conducted strikes on the Basra residence of Ali Hassan al-Majid, a member of Saddam's inner circle who once allegedly ordered a chemical weapons attack on Kurds, Central Command said. On Sunday, coalition forces sifting through the rubble identified the body of his bodyguard. It was still not known whether al-Majid had been killed or wounded.
  • A U.S. warplane bombed a convoy carrying U.S. Special Forces and Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq on Sunday, killing three Americans and wounding five others, U.S. Central Command said. A BBC correspondent who was with the troops said he counted at least 10 bodies amid the burning vehicles.
  • In northern Iraq, Kurdish forces backed by U.S. warplanes drove Iraqi forces farther back from Kurdish frontiers. The Kurds moved within 20 miles of Kirkuk, Iraq's second largest oil center, and a similar distance from the oil city of Khaneqin.
  • On the Tigris River south of Baghdad, U.S. Marines raided Salman Pak, a town that contained a suspected weapons of mass destruction site, U.S. military officials said. Marines also destroyed the headquarters for the Republican Guard Second Corps and a suspected terrorist training camp and seized a presidential palace. No chemical or biological weapons have yet been reported used or located during the war.
  • In Moscow, the Kremlin said a convoy of Russian Embassy diplomats came under fire Sunday, and some were wounded, as they were evacuating from Baghdad and driving toward Syria.
  • Overall, the Pentagon says 79 Americans have been killed in action in Iraq, with eight missing in action and seven held as POWs, while 27 British soldiers have been killed. Central Command says there are 6,500 Iraqi POWs, but no figures have surfaced from either side for Iraqi military casualties.
  • NBC correspondent David Bloom, covering the advance on Baghdad, died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism not related to combat. He was 39.

    While Saturday's show-of-force foray into Baghdad by American armored vehicles was brief, it inflicted a heavy toll, according to U.S. Central Command spokesman Jim Wilkinson. More than three-dozen tanks and armored vehicles were involved; U.S. casualties were described as light.

    The blitz took two task forces of the 3rd Infantry Division from the southern outskirts of the city past Baghdad University and near the banks of the Tigris River, then back to the western outskirts of the city to the airport, which is under U.S. control.

    Capitalizing on their dominance of the skies, U.S. commanders began deploying planes over Baghdad 24 hours a day, ready to direct strike aircraft to ground targets. The sound of explosions, artillery and the scream of rockets resounded in Baghdad for most of the morning Sunday.

    U.S. officials made clear that forays into Baghdad would continue. Television footage showed a second raid Sunday.

    "It's important to do so to secure the area; it's also important that we do that for psychological reasons," Wilkinson said. "Frankly we've had to prove to the civilians in the north and the south that we're there to stay. Once they know we're there to stay, they celebrate."

    In southern Iraq, British forces staged their largest military incursion yet into the city of Basra on Sunday, with a column of 40 armored personnel carriers rumbling into the city.

    Group Capt. Al Lockwood, spokesman for British forces in the Persian Gulf, said that for the first time troops have set up checkpoints in Basra, where British forces and Iraqi paramilitaries have waged bloody battles for control of the key southern city. The British forces have been reluctant to stage a direct attack on the town of 1.3 million.

    "We are aggressively patrolling, we're moving into the city now," Lockwood said, adding that troops believe they have weakened the Iraqi paramilitary resistance to such an extent that a British presence can be established inside the city limits.