New explosions and machine-gun fire were heard in Baghdad late Friday, hours after U.S. troops secured the city's international airport. Meanwhile, Iraqi television broadcast images of Saddam Hussein that raised fresh questions about his whereabouts.
U.S. armored units backed by air power consolidated control of Baghdad's international airport Friday, less than 20 kilometers from the city's center. U.S. officials say more than 300 Iraqi soldiers were killed in fighting in and around the airport.
U.S. Army Brigadier General Vincent Brooks briefed reporters at coalition headquarters in Qatar. "The attack continued through the night, and by dawn this morning [Friday], the coalition had seized the international airport west of Baghdad, formerly known as Saddam International Airport," he said. "The airport now has a new name - Baghdad International Airport - and it is the gateway to the future of Iraq."
U.S. troops are still encountering "sporadic resistance" near the airport, and it may be some time before coalition forces can use it as a transit point for additional troops and supplies.
Coalition leaders are hailing the airport seizure as an important symbolic victory. "It is a huge psychological blow to the regime," said Britain's defense secretary, Geoff Hoon, speaking to British radio. "It demonstrates to the regime, and we hope as well to the people of Baghdad, that we are there."
VOA TV's Deborah Block is with U.S. Marine units advancing on Baghdad from the southeast. With the sound of U.S. artillery in the background, she reported seeing a number of Iraqi tanks and other vehicles on fire on the approach to the capital. "As the Marines and also the [U.S.] Army, of course, at this point, get closer to Baghdad, there certainly seems to be more resistance than there has been in the past," said Deborah Block.
U.S. military officials say Iraqi soldiers are now surrendering in large numbers to coalition troops. Twenty-five hundred Republican Guard troops gave themselves up to U.S. Marines near Al Kut, southeast of Baghdad.
Also Friday, Iraqi television broadcast what it said were new images of Saddam Hussein addressing the nation and walking among cheering Iraqis in the streets of Baghdad.
In the speech, Saddam urged Iraqis to fight coalition troops. He also made a reference to a downing of a U.S. helicopter four days after the war began.
Some analysts suggest that reference indicates Saddam Hussein may have survived the so-called "decapitation attack" that targeted him and other Iraqi leaders in the opening moments of the war.
At the White House, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said U.S. intelligence officials are now analyzing the videotapes. "At this stage, all I can tell you is, we don't know," said Ari Fleischer. "I can also tell you, in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter. Because whether it is him, or whether it isn't him, the regime's days are numbered and are coming to an end."
U.S. defense officials say they intend to limit the Iraqi government's ability to use state television to "control the population." Major General Stanley McChrystal also told reporters that the Iraqi regime is having an increasingly difficult time communicating with its remaining troops. "We do see some sort of regime command and control," he said. "But effective military command and control, which is normally emanated from the core of the regime, has not been apparent on the battlefield."
Meanwhile, an apparent suicide car bomb attack killed five people in western Iraq, including three coalition soldiers. Witnesses said a pregnant woman stepped out of a car and began screaming. When coalition troops approached the vehicle, the car exploded killing the woman, the driver of the car and the three soldiers.
Finally, coalition troops searching an industrial site in a southern suburb of Baghdad have found what may be a chemical warfare training facility. U.S. officials describe the site as "suspicious," and say they found boxes of white powder, a nerve agent antidote and documents in Arabic on how to engage in chemical warfare.