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Iraqi Forces No Longer Control Most of Baghdad, say US Commanders

Explosions continued to rock Baghdad, after U.S. coalition troops pushed into the Iraqi capital and captured a key presidential palace. U.S. President George W. Bush, meanwhile, has arrived in Belfast for talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

At least 70 U.S. tanks, along with armored vehicles, streamed into Baghdad, helping to seize one of Saddam Hussein's presidential palace compounds on the banks of the Tigris River.

U.S. soldiers engaged in sometimes heavy gun battles with Iraqi forces, including snipers holding out in some buildings.

But U.S. military commanders say Iraqi forces no longer control most of Baghdad and other cities. In Qatar, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks briefed reporters at the U.S. Central Command about the thrust into central Baghdad, which followed the capture of the city's airport late last week.

"A second attack into the heart of Baghdad, to key regime locations, destroying any defending forces, while protecting the civilian population and the city's infrastructure reinforces the reality that the regime is not in control of all of the major cities," he said.

VOA's Alisha Ryu was with one U.S. unit and entered a key presidential palace in Baghdad. She said Iraqi Republican Guard units apparently fled, leaving it mostly undefended.

"There was certainly no heavy defense guarding this place when we came in, so I think they expected this place to be overrun at some point and took precautions to get whatever was inside out," she said.

The Red Cross reported hospitals in Baghdad have been inundated with Iraqi war casualties, but it was unclear how many of them were civilians or Iraqi fighters.

Two U.S. soldiers and two journalists were killed in an Iraqi rocket attack on a military command post south of Baghdad. Six U.S. soldiers were reported missing and several wounded when armored personnel carriers were hit by Iraqi fire.

British forces suffered more casualties, but said the city of Basra is under their control, although widespread looting was taking place.

British forces also reported finding a body they believe may be General Ali Hassan Al Majid, the man known as "Chemical Ali," apparently killed in a coalition airstrike. He is believed to be responsible for ordering the use of poison gas against Iraqi Kurds in 1988. A U.S. military spokesman said he could not confirm reports of the general's death.

Iraqi television showed what it said were pictures of Saddam Hussein meeting with top aides. But Iraq's information minister was still denying U.S. troops were in the city.

As President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair meet in Northern Ireland, U.S. officials in Washington were talking about U.S. and Iraqi-led war crimes trials of Saddam Hussein and other top Iraqi leaders. The U.S. Ambassador for War Crimes Issues, Pierre Richard Prosper, told reporters at the Pentagon, "War criminals will be prosecuted. The day of Iraq's liberation will also be a day of justice."

Meanwhile, Ahmad Chalabi, the head of one of the main Iraqi opposition groups, the Iraqi National Congress, is reported to have arrived in the southern town of Nasiriyah. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks was asked about the development at the U.S. Central Command briefing in Qatar.

"There should be no surprise that the Iraqi National Congress wants to see a different Iraq than that which existed a few months ago. And that is ongoing," he said. "They are participating, working closely with the coalition. There are some who are willing and ready to fight for the liberation for Iraq."

In northern Iraq, reports said there was more heavy bombing by U.S. aircraft in and around the northern city of Mosul, which is reported under Iraqi military control.