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Heavy Fighting Resumes in Baghdad

A day after jubilant celebrations on the streets of Baghdad over the apparent downfall of Saddam Hussein, heavy fighting has resumed between U.S. Marines and remnants of the Iraqi regime along the northern banks of the Tigris River. It is a sharp reminder that the war in Iraq is far from over.

The Marines finally seized one of Saddam Hussein's palaces just north of Baghdad Thursday after coming under intense fire from a contingent of Iraqi fighters who hit some American vehicles with rocket-propelled grenades. At least one Marine was killed in the fighting.

Resistance was so fierce that the Marines called in air strikes to help them rout the holdouts.

Other skirmishes between U.S. forces and regime loyalists flared around the capital as thousands of youths from poor Baghdad suburbs moved into the city to engage in another round of looting.

The new signs of lawlessness on the city's streets came a day after jubilant Iraqis carted off just about anything they could find from government buildings, and, with the help of U.S. marines pulled down a giant statue of Saddam Hussein in the city's main square.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hailed the day's events as 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," secretary Rumsfeld said.

Some observers are concerned that coalition troops, welcomed as liberators by some Iraqis, may wear out that welcome soon. Already, some residents of Basra, Iraq's second biggest city, are expressing anger at British forces occupying the town, accusing them of failing to halt widespread looting and civil disorder there.

VOA military analyst David McIntyre says keeping the peace in the days to come will be a difficult challenge for coalition forces.

"One of the characteristics of this war is we used far less force on the ground than in the past," he explained. "That means there are not as many soldiers and military policemen on the ground now to maintain that order."

But coalition forces have other priorities. First, they must win the war and bring the rest of Iraq under their control. And that, as they continue to say, will not be easy. Military analyst McIntyre says the allies will be running up against fighters who will hold out until the very end.

"We are going to have pockets of people who have been part of the regime who are now very much at a disadvantage as the country is turned over to the Iraqi people. And, in fact, some of them are going to find their lives threatened. That traditionally happens when totalitarian regimes collapse," he said.

Much of the allies' focus is now on Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown 170 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, which many officers believe will be the scene of his regime's last stand.

U.S. airpower is now busy bombing what U.S. spokesmen call regime targets in and around Tikrit, whose population is fiercely loyal to Saddam Hussein. Coalition troops fighting in northern Iraq have been bolstered by heavy armor so they can prepare a southward push on the city, if so ordered. And once coalition forces consolidate their hold on Baghdad, they are expected to push northward into the pro-Saddam heartland.

In an effort to find out whether Saddam Hussein was killed in a bombing attack on Monday, U.S. special forces are scouring the site of a building in an upscale Baghdad residential neighborhood that was leveled by U.S. bombs for evidence that the fallen dictator was inside at the time of the blasts.

Coalition forces have other items on their agenda, too. They need to secure Iraq's northern oil fields, uncover the regime's alleged cache of weapons of mass destruction and find U.S. prisoners of war in the days ahead.