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US Forces Take Control of Central Baghdad - 2003-04-09


U.S. forces took control of central Baghdad, as jubilant crowds toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein in a downtown square. U.S. officials called it a good day for Iraq, but said they still don't know the fate of the Iraqi President and cautioned more fighting lies ahead.

The image carried on live television around the world Wednesday was the tearing down of a tall statue of Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad.

Hundreds of cheering Baghdad residents pelted, swatted and swung just about anything they could find at the felled statue and dragged its severed head through the streets.

Mohammed Sowaillam, a former general in the Egyptian army and director of the Armed Forces Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo, says he believes Saddam and his regime, in the end, had no substance.

"He was dreaming, he was dreaming and living an illusion and dreams. No strategy, no tactics, no anything, but lies, lies from Saddam and the Baath party. All was an illusion," he said.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the events of the day historic. "Saddam Hussein is now taking his rightful place -- alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ceausescu -- in the pantheon of failed, brutal dictators, and the Iraqi people are well on their way to freedom," he said.

Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Aldouri, acknowledged that he has not heard from the Iraqi president in Baghdad for several days. Mr. Aldouri says he feels Wednesday's events signal the end of the war. "The game is over. I hope peace will prevail and that the Iraqi people at the end of the day will have a peaceful life," he said.

The Iraqi government maintains its U.N. seat until a new government submits its official credentials.

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer warned that the war is not over. "We still need to be cautious because we still have our armed forces in harm's way. There is still fighting ahead of us," he said.

Coalition troops have full control of three key cities south of Baghdad -- Najaf, Karbala and Hillah. In the north, U-S and Kurdish forces are moving on the cities of Mosul, Kirkuk and Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.

As U.S.-led troops consolidate their hold over the country, Iraqi exiles and local leaders are taking steps to organize what is being called the "Iraqi Interim Authority."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said a meeting scheduled as early as Saturday in southern Iraq should not be seen as putting exile figure Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, in power.

"It's not a coronation. It's not a choice of some kind of government. It's an opportunity for American, for U.S., for coalition officials to meet with free Iraqis from inside and outside Iraq to discuss their vision of the future, to start working with local administrators and talk about their vision of the future," he said.

After hostilities end in Iraq, a civilian authority headed by retired U.S. Army General Jay Garner is to govern the country initially. The Iraqi Interim Authority would then be phased in to run the country until the seating of a freely-elected Iraqi government.

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