U.S. officials say substantial numbers of coalition troops have entered Baghdad and are in the central part of the city. The offensive comes one day after U.S. troops captured the international airport on the outskirts of the capital.
Coalition tanks and troops entered Baghdad Saturday amid heavy artillery fire. Smoke plumes rose from parts of the southern suburbs and explosions could be heard in various parts of the capital.
Coalition spokesman Captain Frank Thorp said the troops are taking advantage of an opportunity. "As we see an opportunity to move forward, to move into an area, we take it and move forward into that area. And that's what got us overnight into the city of Baghdad," he said.
Captain Thorp said U.S. troops met sporadic resistance from Iraqi forces as they entered the city. They also came under fire as they sought to consolidate positions around Baghdad's international airport.
The city of five million people Friday was rocked by missile blasts as residents endured a second night without electricity.
The coalition's deputy director of operations, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, told reporters that Iraq's largest airport was captured Friday by the U.S. 5th Corps, which advanced from al-Kut. "The attack continued through the night, and by dawn this morning, the coalition had seized the international airport west of Baghdad, formerly known as Saddam International Airport," he said.
Iraq's information minister, Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf, said in a television broadcast that Iraq would retake the airport in what he called a non-conventional attack, but he denied that the government would use chemical or biological weapons. "Not at all, not at all. I mean some kind of martyrdom, guerrilla war, and very well, a new way," he said.
Iraqi television Friday broadcast footage of crowds cheering a man resembling President Saddam Hussein visiting parts of Baghdad. Iraqi television also broadcast a speech by President Hussein urging Iraqis to strike back at U.S. led coalition forces. It was the first appearance by the Iraqi leader in which he made a direct reference to the two-and-a-half week war.
Roads leading out of the city were jammed Friday as residents tried to flee the capital.
Meanwhile, coalition officials announced that eight of 11 bodies retrieved from a hospital in southern Iraq during the rescue of a U.S. Private Jessica Lynch were the remains of American soldiers. They reportedly died in the ambush early in the war in which Private Lynch was captured.
And coalition officials announced that two pilots on a Cobra attack helicopters were killed in a crash that is currently under investigation.