U.S. military officials say coalition forces have made their first large-scale incursion into Baghdad. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu is with U.S. forces on the outskirts of the city. She spoke about the latest action with VOA's Al Webb in London.
WEBB: I understand that you have run into some major resistance as the coalition forces are moving inward toward Baghdad.
RYU: I was not on the attacks myself, however, I was able to get some details from the troops who were there. They carried out a four-hour armed attack into Baghdad Saturday and they tell me they have encountered very heavy resistance from whom they believe are members of Saddam Hussein's personal army the special Republican Guard and the Fedayeen paramilitary forces.
The 164 Armor Unit of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division is the one who swept into the center of Baghdad from the southwest end of the city with helicopters and other aircraft providing full support. And, they say, within minutes the troops came under intense fire. The soldiers in the units says dozens of armed Iraqis believed to be special Republican Guards were shooting at them from rooftops of buildings with rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft weapons. Down on the ground they often found members of the Fedayeen paramilitary militia. This is the first time that these Fedayeen military forces have been seen inside Baghdad. They were harassing, doing lots of interdiction-type of defensive work down in the south during the U.S. drive up into Baghdad and Nasiriyah. This is the first time the Fedayeen paramilitary have been seen inside Baghdad.
These Fedayeen members were not in civilian clothing as they were in other places. They were in their distinctive black uniforms. They were very identifiable. U.S. troops described a street corner in Baghdad as being heavily sandbagged into defensive positions. And U.S. troops say the Iraqi troops certainly were expecting coalition forces to move into the city and appear to have planned this defense.
WEBB: Is this the sort of resistance on the scale that coalition forces were led to expect?
RYU: Yes I think it was on the scale because all along they said that they thought that they were moving into Baghdad, pulling back their forces and trying to draw out the war as long as possible by doing street-to-street fighting and engaging them heavily in urban warfare versus being out of the open in tanks and those kinds of things where they are heavily outnumbered as well as their equipment is very outdated and where they would have been very, very badly hurt. And the forces have been very badly hurt.
The Republican Guard has been greatly diminished and they are fleeing from, what I understand, Iraqi officers are now fleeing. And so it's now basically the Republican National Guard and the Fedayeen paramilitary who now are in defense of Baghdad right now. And U.S. coalition forces are saying that there is very little chance that these forces can stand up to what the U.S. and British will bring to bare in the coming days.
WEBB: Despite this reaction today, is the advance into Baghdad continuing on? Have they ridden through this resistance?
RYU: This was not an incursion that was meant to take over large sections of Baghdad. This is not even an incursion to try to see if we can get into Baghdad. I think this was more of a symbolic gesture to the Iraqi people inside Baghdad that U.S. forces are coming. Coalition forces are coming. It was, in a way, to dispel a lot of the Iraqi Information Ministry's claims that coalition forces were still 30-40 kilometers outside of the city. In fact, the information minister for Iraq was on television on al-Jazeera saying that this was not a battle that was taking in Baghdad. That this was a staged event and it was a city that was at least 40 kilometers away from Baghdad. I think that part of it was to counter Iraqi claims that the coalition forces are not in Baghdad at the moment. Also they want to make sure that lanes are clear for a lot of their supplies coming into Baghdad. Basically they want to open up a security corridor so supplies - fuel, food, ammunition and such - can come through without much of a threat in that area. So, there are several reasons why the attack was done. It was not to take over large sections of Baghdad.
WEBB: It's become nightfall in Baghdad right now. Are air raids continuing on any scale discernible from where you are?
RYU: I do not hear any sirens at the moment. It is rather quiet. What I do see is there are small lines of convoys still moving toward the outskirts of Baghdad and reinforcing the supply convoys that have been coming on a daily basis. So, that's about the activity I see at the moment. This could turn at any time. Every night we have had some sort of artillery and explosions and those kinds of things outside of the city very, very distinctive explosions that you can hear. I can't see what is going on inside the city but at least from the outside there is very little activity at the moment.