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Iraqi Forces Hold Baghdad Airport, insists Iraqi Minister - 2003-04-06

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told reporters in Baghdad that Iraqi troops forced the coalition to retreat from the airport on Saturday. He said Iraqi artillery forced the coalition soldiers back, but he claims small units returned with video equipment to shoot images to support their claim to control the airport.

"When we stopped pounding, then they pushed forward some of the units, in certain periods of time, to the front to the area of Saddam International Airport only for the sake of propaganda, only to show that they are in the airport area," Mr. al-Sahaf said.

Mr. al-Sahaf said those units were, again, pushed back and said Iraqi troops maintain control of the airport.

Western reporters, including VOA's Alisha Ryu, are at the airport and report coalition forces are in firm control, and are working to secure the area around the huge facility.

They also report clean up efforts are underway to prepare the airport's runways for use so fresh coalition supplies and troops can be flown in.

At the Baghdad news conference, Mr. al-Sahaf acknowledged that Baghdad has been experiencing power outages, which he blamed on coalition bombing raids. But he said power is being restored.

He also disputed U.S. claims that several thousand Iraqis have surrendered.

Mr. Al-Sahaf's statements have come under more and more scrutiny in recent days, as large numbers of coalition troops, with independent news reporters, have entered the airport and even made an incursion into central Baghdad on Saturday.

Last Thursday, Mr. al-Sahaf told reporters coalition forces were not within, as he put it, 100 miles of Baghdad. One day later he was acknowledging that coalition forces were battling for control of the airport, just a few kilometers from downtown Baghdad.