The commanding general of the U.S. Army in Iraq says it is much too soon to declare Baghdad a liberated city. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu accompanied Lieutenant General William Scott Wallace on Thursday as he visited commanders and troops in downtown Baghdad.
The three-star American general listened intently as the commander of the Third Infantry Division's Second Brigade, Colonel David Perkins, described the resistance his soldiers met in the center of the city two days ago from paramilitary men loyal to Saddam Hussein.
"At one point, they were ambushed, ... and lost two soldiers. One was hit directly with an RPG [Rocket-Propelled Grenade]," he said.
During Colonel Perkins' briefing at what used to be Saddam Hussein's main residence in Baghdad, loud explosions and small arms fire echoed in the distance. Lieutenant General Wallace says despite television scenes on Wednesday of Iraqi people celebrating U.S. troops taking control of Baghdad, he believes his soldiers are still under enormous threat from Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen and Special Republican Guards in some parts of the city.
"It's those knuckleheads we have got to take care of," he said.
Evidence of recent fighting is everywhere in the downtown area. Along one deserted street, numerous dead Iraqi militiamen lie next to their burned out civilian vehicles. Around the corner, a U.S. military fuel tanker, hit by a grenade, is on fire.
Destroyed weapons, spent shells and unexploded ordinance form a metal carpet on the street that leads to the now U.S. occupied presidential palace.
Many Iraqi civilians in the neighborhood stood outside their homes, and yelled, "Hello," to General Wallace's convoy. Some people gave the general the "thumbs up" sign, and shouted, "Thank you."
Other people, mostly young Iraqi men, glared angrily at the long line of Bradley fighting vehicles and Humvee Jeeps rumbling past them.
The commander of the Second Brigade, Colonel Perkins, says his soldiers and civil affairs officers are making progress in gaining the trust of the local people. He told General Wallace that several of the local men alerted his troops about a minefield in the area. Colonel Perkins says that information prevented numerous American casualties.
But yet, another crack of gunfire near the U.S. military commanders on Thursday reminds them that the threat against U.S. troops in Baghdad is far from over.