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Coalition Forces Advance North to Baghdad - 2003-03-23


As the air and land invasion of Iraq enters its fourth day, U.S. military officials describe the state of leadership in Baghdad as confused and say it's possible Saddam Hussein may be losing control over his military. At the same time, Baghdad continues to come under heavy air attack as coalition troops on the ground sweep northward toward the capital.

Daylight in Baghdad Saturday brought the first clear pictures of the damage that hundreds of bombs and cruise missiles had inflicted the night before: Presidential palaces, government buildings and military headquarters, all destroyed in thunderous explosions that resumed at dawn and again Saturday night.

Iraq says three people have been killed in air raids, another 200 injured.

President Saddam Hussein appeared on state television Saturday with his top advisors and son Qusay to reassure Iraqis he is still control. But U.S. officials say there are many questions about his whereabouts or whether he is even alive, ever since huge bunker-busting bombs were dropped on a site Thursday where he was believed to be meeting top commanders.

In his first news briefing of the war, coalition commander, General Tommy Franks, suggests these televised appearances by the Iraqi leader do not necessarily reflect the true state of leadership in Baghdad.

"There is a certain confusion that is going on within the regime," he said. "I believe command and control is not as exactly as advertised on Iraqi television."

But General Franks added that talks with Iraqi commanders to secure Baghdad's capitulation continue ahead of what could be much tougher Iraqi resistance when coalition troops close in on Baghdad, where the better trained and equipped units of the Republican Guard are stationed.

"We've still got significant Iraqi forces in front of us," said Pentagon spokesman General Stanley McChrystal. "They may fight, they may not. If they fight, there could be a tough battle to be taken."

But as coalition forces push northward, reports from southern Iraq say thousands of Iraqi soldiers have surrendered or are deserting. "Soldiers essentially leaving the battlefield or melting away," said General Stanley McChrystal.

Here in the United States, tens of thousands of anti-war protesters took to the streets in cities from New York to San Francisco Saturday. Overseas, thousands more marched in countries from Japan to Greece.

President Bush spent Saturday meeting with his war council at the Camp David presidential retreat in nearby Maryland. In his weekly radio address, he warned Americans the war against Iraq could be longer and more difficult than some have predicted, but "we will accept no outcome but victory."