U.S. troops in Baghdad continue to encounter pockets of resistance from fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein, one day after the collapse of the regime in the capital. Meanwhile, coalition forces in some areas of Iraq are shifting focus, where they can, to securing and rebuilding the country.
Some of the urban fighting in Baghdad has been intense, as U.S. forces flush out pockets of Saddam loyalists in various neighborhoods. One battle took place near a mosque in northwestern Baghdad.
"Baghdad is still an ugly place. There are many parts of the city that are either not secured by U.S. forces or are unsecured at all," said U.S. Air Force Major General Victor Renuart, who briefed reporters at Central Command headquarters in Qatar. "There are other places in the city where we believe there are still pockets of remaining small elements of Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard and paramilitary forces. And that really is the objective of our operations in Baghdad now is to go to those locations and return some stability."
VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has gotten a first-hand look at the situation in central Baghdad. She toured the city with two of the top commanders of U.S. ground forces in Iraq.
"And I can tell you that the fighting is not entirely over," she said. "There are areas that are still very, very unsafe. It is not very explosive. But there were explosions and we heard numerous gunshots."
Alisha Ryu also says that the few civilians she saw on her tour gave U.S. troops a warm reception.
"They were friendly. They were giving us thumbs up signs," she said. "They were holding up white flags, and bringing out children, and they were meeting the convoy in a very, very friendly manner. So, I think the generals were glad to see that kind of reception."
In northern Iraq, Kurdish fighters, backed by U.S. special forces, have entered the strategic city of Kirkuk.
Military experts warn that the next several days could be dangerous for U.S. forces as they root out the remaining pockets of resistance.
"This is going to be like the last days of the Third Reich [Germany at the end of World War II], where we uncovered torture chambers," said Former U.S. Army Colonel David McIntyre, who has been providing analysis for VOA television. "There are going to be angry people there, who want revenge on the people that amputated limbs and gouged out eyes. There is going to be a lot of disorder in the next few days, and we are going to have to work our way through it."
In another sign of change in Iraq, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair broadcast a television message directly to the Iraqi people, telling them that they will soon be free.
Mr. Bush repeated his pledge that coalition forces will not stop until the entire Saddam regime is gone.
"The nightmare that Saddam Hussein has brought to your nation will soon be over," the president said. "You are a good and gifted people, the heirs of a great civilization that contributes to all humanity. You deserve better than tyranny and corruption and torture chambers. You deserve to live as free people and I assure every citizen of Iraq that your nation will soon be free."
British Prime Minister Blair sought to reassure Iraqis that outside powers will not control the country's destiny.
"This Iraq will not be run by Britain or by the U.S. or by the U.N.," he said. "It will be run by you, the people of Iraq."
Even as they move against pockets of Saddam loyalists, coalition troops are gradually focusing on the massive reconstruction job that lies ahead, as part of building a free Iraq.
General Renuart addressed that issue at Central Command headquarters in Qatar.
"So, we are reviewing railroads, road infrastructure, bridge work, power, lights, water," he said. "All of those things in the major metropolitan areas around the country, so that we can begin to infuse elements, to repair and restore each of those capabilities just as rapidly as we can."
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United Nations will not play a leading role in the political transformation of post-war Iraq. Mr. Powell told The Los Angeles Times newspaper that the United Nations should focus largely on humanitarian aid and reconstruction issues.