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Some Iraqis Welcome Americans in Baghdad; Firefights Continue Elsewhere in Iraqi Capital - 2003-04-09


Baghdad is a city of wildly contrasting images, dancing in the streets in some neighborhoods, while intense firefights continue in others. U.S. military commanders say pockets of resistance remain, but Saddam Hussein no longer controls the capital he once ruled with an iron fist.

Pent-up emotions from years of oppression literally spilled into the streets of Baghdad as jubilant Iraqis danced and cheered, defaced pictures of Saddam Hussein and, in some cases, went on a looting binge.

Large crowds took what they could from government office buildings and Baath Party locations in parts of the capital while others gave a warm welcome to coalition troops.

The most intense celebrations were reported in a Shiite section known as Saddam City in northeastern Baghdad. In central Baghdad, a large statue of Saddam was toppled by a cheering crowd assisted by U.S. Marines in what is likely to be one of the defining images of "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

The reaction was bit more muted in the western part of the city where VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu continues her travels with U.S. troops.

"It seems as if people now are fairly convinced that Saddam Hussein has been toppled, if not killed. And there is a sense of relief among some people here that this regime is finished, and they are hesitantly - and I say hesitantly because we have not seen that sort of mass kind of eruption of celebration out in the streets yet - but there seems to be some hesitant celebrations going on in different parts of town," reported correspondent Ryu.

U.S. military officials have now added Baghdad to the growing list of locations where the Saddam regime no longer has control.

"Today the regime is in disarray and much of Iraq is free from years of oppression," said Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, briefing reporters at Central Command headquarters in Qatar. "Televisions across the world today are filled with images of jubilant Iraqis who know the regime is coming to an end."

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney told newspaper editors in New Orleans that American forces are seeing what he called "the collapse of the central regime authority" in Iraq, though he added that hard fighting could be ahead.

In fact, even as dancing took place on some streets in Baghdad, journalists placed with coalition troops reported that intense firefights continued in other parts of the city, especially near Baghdad University.

General Brooks said coalition troops continue to encounter roving bands of hard-line Saddam loyalists willing to fight and die for the regime.

"I think we will see the resumption of a lot of normal activity there and we remain convinced that that is the right way to approach this," said General Brooks. "There is work to go, though, and while we are satisfied with our efforts to date, we still know that there is a lot of tough work to be done to make sure we continue in the same direction."

More American troops and tanks moved into the center of Baghdad and are consolidating their positions after a somewhat quieter night Tuesday.

That is allowing coalition troops like one American Marine, who identified himself only as Corporal Mallick, to take a rest from the fighting. "We are going to take a break, rest up, eat a little bit of food and move on tomorrow. Every day in Baghdad is a big day for us," said Corporal Mallick. "So we are going to get as much rest as we can when we get the chance and then we will continue on."

In another sign that the situation in Baghdad is shifting, many Iraqi government officials apparently did not show up for work Wednesday. Among the missing was Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf who had been giving daily briefings to foreign journalists at the Palestine Hotel.

In northern Iraq, U.S. special operations troops and Kurdish fighters seized a strategic hilltop near the city of Mosul.

Coalition attention is also focused on the northern town of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, where regime supporters could be gearing up for a last stand.

General Brooks says U.S. forces are trying to destroy the regime's command and control capability in and around Tikrit but he would not say when coalition forces might launch an assault on the town.

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