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US Troops Occupy Presidential Palace in Baghdad - 2003-04-07


U.S. tanks have smashed into Saddam Hussein's main presidential palace and occupied the compound in the center of Baghdad. In southern Iraq, British troops now say they control most of Basra, the country's second largest city.

Television footage from Baghdad has shown American soldiers waving triumphantly from their armored vehicles as they rolled through the presidential palace grounds on the banks of the Tigris River.

Reporters accompanying the troops say they are also taking over other presidential sites.

Multiple columns of U.S. forces moved through the Iraqi capital, and senior officers said they sent scores of tanks and armored vehicles into the capital. Low-flying warplanes covered the armored columns.

A spokesman for U.S. Central Command, Navy Captain Frank Thorp, said Monday's incursion is a message to the Iraqi government that U.S. forces now have the capability to move into the heart of Baghdad at a moment's notice. "United States armored combat formations are again moving through the city of Baghdad, quite frankly, through the heart of Baghdad. The Fifth Corps is again conducting armored raids through the city, by leadership symbols such as presidential palaces. The Republican Palace is one placed we drove by and visited, as well as the ministry of information," he said.

Despite television images that showed American forces driving through downtown Baghdad, Iraqi information minister Mohammed Saeed as-Sahaf claimed that Iraqi forces are "slaughtering the attackers." But U.S. military officials dismiss that claim, saying their casualties have been relatively light.

Captain Thorp cautions that the battle for Baghdad is far from over, however. "This is not going to be an easy day. Too early probably to characterize the resistance we're seeing in the city today. But the fight's not over," he said. "There are still Republican Guards, Special Republican Guards, as well as other forces of the Iraqi regime that are out and about, that will continue to bring the fight to us. We don't know how long they may last."

An aide to captain Thorp says Republican Guard forces have taken up positions in a major Baghdad mosque and in city hospitals.

Meanwhile, British forces have taken control of most of Iraq's second biggest city, Basra, but continue to face some resistance. After a two-week siege, British forces blasted their way into Basra on Sunday in a bid to stamp out resistance from paramilitary forces loyal to Saddam Hussein.

Group Captain Al Lockwood of the Royal Air Force, the top British spokesman at coalition headquarters, said "in Basra, we've had continued success overnight, and the resistance is down to one pocket in the old town, in the souk area. We have, obviously, troops moving through there today being ably assisted by the local population who are identifying where the paramilitaries are holed up and, indeed, identifying them to us."

Captain Lockwood also said he is pretty sure that British troops found the body of Ali Hassan al-Majeed, a notorious Iraqi general and cousin of Saddam Hussein who is held widely responsible for the gassing of ethnic Kurds in 1988. "I have it on some fairly reliable information that they think that his body has been pulled from the rubble of the building that was bombed," he said.

Coalition warplanes and artillery bombed the Basra residence of Ali Hassan al-Majeed last Saturday.

Known as "Chemical Ali," he was in charge of all Iraqi forces in the south and, if his death is confirmed, would be the first major regime figure killed in the war.

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