Key parts of the Iraqi capital have fallen to U.S. forces, with jubilant crowds turning out to welcome American troops as they continue to fan out through the city, facing no organized resistance. U.S. military commanders say Iraqi authorities are no longer in control of the capital, but warn more fighting lies head in other parts of the country.
U.S. tanks and troops have taken up key positions on the main streets in what appears to be a decisive day in the three week war to topple Saddam Hussein. In dramatic pictures broadcast around the world, scores of Iraqis rushed to a square in central Baghdad armed with hammers and other tools to bring down a towering statue of the Iraqi leader.
American Marines assisted the crowd and with the the help of a armored vehicle the giant statue was toppled and smashed to pieces. "What you're seeing is celebration in the streets is recognition that the regime is gone and will not return again," General Brooks said.
General Vincent Brooks at U.S. Central Command, telling reporters what many in Baghdad already knew. There has been no sign that the Iraqi leader is alive or dead, following another raid on a site Monday where U.S. military officials thought he might be. But British military spokesman Captain Al Lockwood says it doesn't really matter.
"We control the place and we can move with impunity throughout Baghdad," he said.
But gunfire and explosions continued to be heard around the Iraqi capital and there is growing lawlessness and looting. At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warns the battle is far from over and there could still be significant fighting in areas of the country where pro-Saddam militias and snipers continue to target coalition forces.
"There's a lot more fighting that's going to be done. More people are going to be killed, let there be no doubt. This is not over despite all the celebrations on the street," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Reporters in Baghdad say Iraqi government officials, including the normally very visible information minister were nowhere to be seen and government minders who usually come to escort reporters around the city did not show up for work Wednesday.
Secretary Rumsfeld says some Iraqi government officials are fleeing the country through Syria.
"Senior regime people are moving out of Iraq into Syria and Syria is continuing to send things into Iraq. We find it notably unhelpful," the US defense secretary said.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president was pleased with the progress of the military campaign, but cautions more fighting is ahead.
U.S. and British forces have yet to find any alleged Iraqi chemical or biological weapons, which the Bush administration argued Iraq had, but which Baghdad maintained it had long ago destroyed.
The U.S. military is however, examining suspicious material found in a raid near Karbala earlier this week. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said he is concerned some weapons of mass destruction may have been removed from the country.