Explosions rattled Baghdad at dawn Sunday as U.S. forces maneuvered on the edge of the city and waited to move on the stronghold of the Iraqi leadership.
Streams of U.S. tanks and other armored vehicles crossed the Euphrates River in the early hours as U.S. forces bolstered their positions around the Iraqi capital. The latest move by American armored vehicles came a day after U.S. troops made their first incursion into Baghdad since the war began. On Saturday, U.S. forces swept into the capital, taking out several Republican Guard positions before pulling out of the city.
Reporters traveling with U.S. units say fighting was intense. VOA's Alysha Ryu, who is with American troops on the southwestern edge of Baghdad, said they were met with fire from both elite units and militiamen. "And they say that, within minutes, the troops came under intense fire," she said. "And the soldiers in the unit say 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. Now, down on the ground, they often found members of the Fedayeen paramilitary militia."
The Americans took no territory in their foray into the capital. U.S. Central Command operations director, Air Force Major General Gene Renuart, said the intention behind the incursion was to send a message to regime loyalists that the city will be breached at any time allied forces choose to do so. "It was, I think, a clear statement of the ability of coalition forces to move into Baghdad at times and places of their choosing and to establish their presence, really, wherever they need to in the city," he said.
U.S. Central Command says coalition aircraft struck the home in the southern city of Basra of Ali Hassan al-Majeed, an Iraqi general who ordered the poison gas attack against Iraqi Kurds in 1988. The general, known as Chemical Ali, is a cousin and close associate of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and commander of Iraqi forces in the south.
Also in Basra, British forces are launching pinprick attacks into the city to test the resistance of local paramilitaries still holed up there. Royal Air Force Group Captain Al Lockwood, a British spokesman at coalition headquarters, said British forces are receiving some assistance from civilians in the city. "It's really getting into our armored vehicles, going into the city, sort of probing into areas where we haven't been before, checking to see what the response from local civilians is, but, more importantly, looking for these paramilitary forces that we know are in there, trying to seek their hideouts, using the information that local people have given us to go in there and try to get them out of there and away from the local population," he said.
In other action Sunday, U.S. and Iraqi forces are engaged in fierce fighting near the Shiite Muslim holy city of Karbala, about 80 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, where U.S. troops are trying to eliminate Iraqi paramilitary forces which have persistently attacked coalition supply lines over the past two weeks.