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Frontline Report: The Scene from Baghdad Airport - 2003-04-06

Correspondent Alisha Ryu has joined U.S. forces at the Baghdad airport. She described the scene in a conversation with VOA's Al Pessin at our London News Center.

PESSIN: Alisha, I understand that you and the unit you are with have arrived at Baghdad airport. Can you describe the scene?

RYU: Well, coming up Highway 8, which is the main highway coming up from the outskirts of Baghdad, into what is now Baghdad International Airport we saw incredible scenes. There were an incredible amount of blown-up vehicles, tanks. There were abandoned anti-aircraft artillery positions. The only Iraqis we saw were local civilians in the rural areas as we crossed the Euphrates River. They were very friendly. They were waving at us and smiling at us and giving us a "thumbs-up" sign. We encountered absolutely no hostility whatsoever, but we did see quite a bit of evidence of fighting.

PESSIN: Now that you are at the airport, what is the situation there like?

RYU: The situation at the airport is quite calm. It was a very quiet night last night, from what we heard. U.S. troops who are occupying the terminal as well as the hangars in the airport are very, very calm. The area around the airport, I would say, is not terribly calm. The reason why I say that is that I heard on the [military communications] radio several times that they spotted these dismounted militia. I think they were referring to these special Republican Guards, and possibly the fedayeen paramilitary militia members that they spotted yesterday during their attack into the central part of Baghdad by the 3rd Infantry division unit that went in there. I know that they are using close air support to pinpoint those locations and to get rid of the threat. But as far as the airport is concerned, it seems extremely secure.

PESSIN: Alisha, I understand you stopped at some pretty interesting sites on your way into the airport. Tell us about that.

RYU: We were able to go and look at a couple of the VIP palaces that are around the airport that the U.S. forces have now cleared out. And they are very, very nice, magnificent places where Saddam Hussein entertained. They are made out of marble and they are very well decorated, and they left most of it intact. I am not sure what they are going to do with those buildings, but they just wanted to make sure that all the areas around the airport were clear.

PESSIN: Alisha, you mentioned the incursion into the central part of Baghdad on Saturday by some U.S. troops, has that been repeated on Sunday, or are there plans to do so that you're aware of?

RYU: I am not aware of any immediate plans to attack into central Baghdad again. I think that was more of a symbolic gesture Saturday, just to let the Iraqis know that they could move in at any time. And I think it was a lot to do with Iraqi claims that the U.S. and coalition were nowhere near the capital. But I am sure that once the situation around the airport stabilizes that that operation will be in the offing very, very soon.

PESSIN: We have heard reports that the airport might be in operation within as little as 24 hours to bring troops and supplies from the coalition up to the edge of Baghdad. Do you know what the status of the airport is regarding operations?

RYU: Yes, there was some talk I heard this morning that they were going to bring in some C-17 and C-130 cargo airplanes to bring in supplies. That has been canceled for the time being. I think they are still not comfortable with the level of security in this area. They did a very quick job of cleaning up [resistance] in this area around the airport and inside the airport. Yesterday they had a unit from the Third Infantry division who went into the main terminal and cleared that area out in a very short time. And so if they can clear some of this ammunition and leftover weapons and those kinds of things that they are finding on these mop-up operations, then I am sure they can get the planes in, in a relatively short time.

PESSIN: Alisha, I know the living conditions for you and the soldiers you have been traveling with have been pretty difficult for the past three weeks, nearly now, sleeping in tents in the desert and once or twice sleeping outside or sleeping under tanks. Now that you are at the airport, is there a possibility you might actually sleep inside a building tonight?

RYU: Well, I will tell you, this has been on my mind for the past three weeks, trying to find a place that is made out of concrete instead of sand and dust. As we are speaking right now there is a dust storm that is coming in through the airport. But I am not quite sure exactly where these soldiers here at the airport are sleeping. I just arrived. So I am going to actually have to try to find a place where I can sleep for the evening. I am trying to get inside the terminal, but I am not sure if there is any space available. I will go have a look and I will tell them I do not take up too much space and hopefully they will let me in.