U.S. military officials say they now control Baghdad's international airport but caution that more fighting lies ahead in the battle for the Iraqi capital.
U.S. armored units backed by air power have now consolidated control of Baghdad's international airport 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."
Iraqi units are still reported in the vicinity of 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," Britain's Defense Secretary, Geoff Hoon, told British radio. "It demonstrates to the regime and we hope as well to the people of Baghdad that we are there."
U.S. military officials say large numbers of Iraqi soldiers are now surrendering to coalition troops. 2,500 Republican Guard troops gave themselves up near al-Kut, southeast of Baghdad.
Despite the success of the coalition advance on Baghdad, General Vincent Brooks is warning that tough fighting likely lies ahead. "I won't even call them counter-attacks," said General Brooks. "They certainly came after we had possession of terrain and they were soundly defeated in each case. Not well integrated, not coordinated. But nevertheless, there is a presence of force that is out there still."
Iraqi officials have, for the first time, admitted that coalition forces are now at the gates of Baghdad. Information Minister Mohammed al-Sahhaf read what he said was another statement from Saddam Hussein urging Iraqis to defend the capital: "God help us to win and make them retreat from our capital," he said. "And we have decided to conquer all their army. And get them away from our land, the holy land of Islam."
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri told British radio Friday that Saddam Hussein is alive. But he abruptly ended the interview when asked if he had personally seen Saddam recently.
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.