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Coalition Says Baghdad Incursion Meant to Discredit Iraqi Claims - 2003-04-05

A senior coalition official says an offensive by U.S. troops Saturday into central Baghdad was meant to demonstrate that the Iraqi leadership no longer controls the country as it has claimed in recent broadcasts. The remarks come one day after coalition forces seized control of Baghdad's international airport.

The coalition's director of operations, Major General Gene Renuart, indicated Saturday that a purpose of the incursion into Baghdad was to discredit recent victory statements by Iraqi leaders. "Coalition troops are in fact in the vicinity of Baghdad, do in fact have the ability to come into the city at places of their choosing, and demonstrate to the Iraqi leadership that they do not have control in a fashion that they continue to say they do on their television. And I think we made that point," said General Renuart.

Several dozen U.S. tanks and armored vehicles moved into the Iraqi capital Saturday morning. General Renuart says the troops met resistance from elements of the Iraqi Republican Guard using rocket-propelled grenades and what he called nests of irregular forces in armed civilian trucks.

The general also said Iraqi troops used anti-aircraft artillery weapons to fire directly at his troops. "It was, as reported, intense fighting in areas," he said. "On the other hand in some areas, people were standing on the sidewalks waving to us. So clearly there is confusion in Baghdad. Clearly there is some chaos in terms of the command and control and the ability of the military defending Baghdad. On the other hand, there are people who appear to acknowledge the presence of coalition forces favorably."

Journalists who visited the area reported they saw dozens of burned-out Iraqi vehicles.

The operation followed a statement by Iraq's information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, that Iraqi forces defeated coalition troops at Baghdad's international airport.

Coalition troops took the airport Friday. Officials Saturday said they continue to be the target of sporadic gunfire but say they hope to have the airfield open for military flights within days.

General Renuart said that nine of 11 bodies removed from an Iraqi hospital in a special forces operation were found to be the remains of U.S. soldiers who went missing in an ambush in southern Iraq two weeks ago.

The bodies were recovered three days ago in a nighttime rescue of U.S. Private Jessica Lynch, who was captured and wounded in the same ambush.