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U.S. Controls Baghdad Airport, Moves Closer to the City - 2003-04-04

We end our week as we began it, with the latest on operation Iraqi freedom. U.S. forces have seized control of Baghdad’s international airport after a night of fighting with Iraqi troops. The coalition’s commander says 2500 members of Iraq’s Republican Guard surrendered to U.S. marines in a separate encounter south of Baghdad. Jim bertel begins today’s war coverage.

U.S. forces moved to encircled Baghdad, and are roughly 20 kilometers from the city center. But Coalition commanders say their troops are still working to clear out pockets of Iraqi resistance around the outskirts of the city.

The ground assault around Baghdad began after American soldiers captured the sprawling international airport early Friday. Reports say more than 300 Iraqi soldiers were killed during intense fighting.

Brigadier General Vincent Brooks says American forces faced strong resistance from Iraqi troops.

“The attack continued through the night and by dawn this morning the coalition had seized the international airport, west of Baghdad formally known as Saddam International Airport. The airport now has a new name, Baghdad International Airport, the gateway to the future of Iraq.”

Military analysts say gaining control of the airfield is a key victory. They say it allows coalition troops and equipment to be flown near the front, relieving stress on long supply lines that have come under frequent Iraqi attacks.

But the Iraqi’s say they have plans to retake the airport. The information Minister warned of what he called an unconventional operation against U.S. forces near the airport.

Meanwhile, for a second night Baghdad was again dark, without electricity. But earlier state run television aired a speech from Saddam Hussein, in which he urged Iraqis to fight coalition forces. The Iraqi leader was later shown in the streets of Baghdad surrounded by cheering supporters.

Back on the battlefield, coalition forces suffered more casualties. Three soldiers were killed during an apparent suicide car bomb attack at a military checkpoint near the Hadithah Dam, northwest of Baghdad, on Thursday.

Not far away another battle raged between U.S. Marines and Iraqi soldiers and civilians. U.S. military officials say that nearly three thousand of Saddam’s most elite soldiers have surrendered near the city of Al Kut.

In northern Iraq, coalition forces continued airstrikes against Iraq’s frontline positions. Kurdish fighters made further advances from the north after taking control of Iraqi positions near the city of Mosul.

In Iraq's western desert U.S. Special Forces found what they believe is a training school for chemical, biological or nuclear warfare.

Meanwhile, U.S. military officials say some of Saddam’s loyal Republican Guard troops may have retreated back into Baghdad, waiting for coalition forces to enter the crowded capital.