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Iraq Denies Coalition Troop Presence in Baghdad


Despite numerous independent reports that coalition forces entered downtown Baghdad Monday and occupied a main presidential palace, Iraq's information minister says these reports are lies and claims Iraqi troops have surrounded and slaughtered coalition forces.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told reporters in Baghdad that the capital city is safe and secure, claiming Iraqi forces, as he put it, slaughtered a column of coalition armored vehicles on the outskirts of the capital. And the minister denied that coalition forces had advanced into the center of Baghdad, despite eyewitness reports from independent news correspondents monitoring the situation in Baghdad.

Correspondents are reporting that U.S. tanks Monday smashed their way into President Saddam Hussein's main palace in the heart of Baghdad and occupied the compound. Reporters traveling with the U.S. led forces say troops are also taking over other presidential sites. As many as 65 tanks and 40 fighting vehicles were reported to have rolled into the center of Baghdad early Monday, backed by low-flying coalition air support. Heavy gunfire was reported in downtown Baghdad.

The Iraqi information ministry, foreign ministry and the al-Rashid hotel, all located near the presidential palace, are said to remain in control of Iraqi troops

As a defensive measure, Iraqi troops set fire to oil trenches around Baghdad sending thick, black plumes of smoke across the capital.

The Iraqi information minister also said coalition forces fled Saddam International Airport Sunday. Again, reporters with coalition forces at the airport say U.S. led troops are in firm control of the facility.

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