U.S. military officials say coalition forces have made their first large-scale incursion into Baghdad, while the commander of the air campaign says much of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard divisions outside the Iraqi capital have been destroyed.

About 30 coalition tanks and armored vehicles rolled into Baghdad, with witnesses saying the column left dozens of destroyed Iraqi military vehicles behind.

The coalition's director of operations, Major General Gene Renuart, indicated the purpose of the incursion was to prove coalition forces can move into the Iraqi capital when they need to. "It was, I think, a clear statement of the ability of the coalition forces to move into Baghdad at times and places of their choosing and establish their presence, really, wherever they need to in the city," he said.

General Renuart says fighting was intense in some areas of the Iraqi capital

He says in other places people stood on sidewalks and waved to coalition troops.

Despite evidence that U.S. forces are in control of Baghdad's main airport and operating inside the capital, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf told reporters Iraqi soldiers are routing coalition troops. "We have crushed them in the place of Saddam International Airport," he said. "We have pushed them outside the whole area. We are surrounding them and pounding them heavily by artillery and missile strikes."

A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command says the coalition is in control of the airport and one of the runways should be usable soon.

U.S. soldiers surrounding Baghdad have encountered less than expected resistance from the Republican Guard, thought to be Saddam Hussein's best equipped and most motivated fighters.

The commander of the coalition's air war, Lieutenant General T. Michael Moseley, spoke to reporters at the Pentagon via telephone from his headquarters in Saudi Arabia.

He says massive coalition air power has crippled the Republican Guard units near Baghdad. "I will tell you up front that our sensors show that the preponderance of the Republican Guard divisions that are outside of Baghdad are now dead," said General Moseley. "We have laid on these people. I found it interesting when folks say we are softening them up. We are not softening them up, we are killing them."

General Moseley warns that not all Republican Guard soldiers have been killed, and some may have still resisted as coalition forces enter Baghdad.

Meanwhile, President Bush said in his Saturday radio address the war in Iraq proves the evil of Saddam Hussein's regime. "In combat, Saddam's thugs shield themselves with women and children," said president Bush. "They have killed Iraqi citizens who welcome coalition troops, and they have forced other Iraqis into battle by threatening to torture or kill their families. They have executed prisoners of war, waged attacks under the white flag of truce, and concealed combat forces in civilian neighborhoods, schools, hospitals and mosques. In this war, the Iraqi regime is terrorizing its own citizens, doing everything possible to maximize Iraqi civilian casualties, and then to exploit the deaths they have caused for propaganda."

President Bush promised the war will liberate the Iraqi people and take weapons of mass destruction from the hands of mass murders.

Mr. Bush pledged that no crime will divert the coalition from its mission, and that "village by village, city by city, liberation is coming" to the Iraqi people.