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US Troops Push Deeper into Baghdad - 2003-04-08

U.S. forces seized a key military airport in southern Baghdad Tuesday, while facing stiff resistance in other parts of the Iraqi capital.

Meanwhile, U.S. military officials say they do not know if Saddam Hussein was killed in a bombing attack Monday that targeted the Iraqi leadership.

U.S. Army units today for the first time pushed into Baghdad from the north. In southern Baghdad, U.S. Marines seized the Rashid military base, giving them control of two of the capital's three airports.

Iraqi soldiers and paramilitaries put up intense resistance to U.S. troops, and explosions from U.S. tanks and warplanes rattled central Baghdad Tuesday night.

Iraqi officials remained defiant, saying their forces will never surrender.

Fighting has been fierce, but at the Pentagon, U.S. Major General Stanley McChrystal, was upbeat about the coalition military advance so far.

"We're sitting in the center of the city with almost an armored brigade right now, which is extraordinary," he said. "So, if you put it in that sort of context, the endgame is the end of the regime, and that's much closer than people thought it was."

U.S. military officials say they could not confirm whether Saddam Hussein or any of his sons were killed in an airstrike on what they call a "high value target" in a residential Baghdad neighborhood Monday. General McChrystal says it may be some time before U.S. forces can sift through the rubble.

President Bush repeated his determination to remove the Iraqi leader. "Saddam Hussein will be gone. It might have been yesterday [Monday]. I don't know. But he'll be gone," he said.

Mr. Bush was in Northern Ireland to discuss post-war Iraq with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"We are, of course, agreed, as we say in our Joint Statement, that there will be a vital role for the United Nations in the reconstruction of Iraq, but the key is that Iraq in the end should be governed by the Iraqi people," said Mr. Blair.

Meanwhile, Iraqi opposition groups are set to meet in southern Iraq on Saturday to discuss post-war governance of the country.

At a press conference in London, Iraq's would-be king, Sharif Ali Bin Hussein, of the Monarchist Constitutional Movement, said Iraqis do not need outside help to form a new government.

"We are not a failed state," he said. "We are not a state in civil war. We are just a population that has been ruled by a dictatorship. Once that leadership of that dictatorship is removed from power, authority should be transferred to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible."

In other news, U.S. military strikes killed three foreign journalists in Baghdad, including a reporter for the Arab satellite television network al-Jazeera. The Pentagon says the U.S. tank was responding to sniper fire and was not targeting journalists.