Iraqis Launch Urban Fightback in Baghdad

Monday, 07 April 2003 20:18 by: Anonymous

Editor's Note:  Virtually the entire television media, as well as most of the print news sources, carried stories of victorious American troops storming into Saddam Hussein's palaces in Baghdad.  Several wire reports, however, such as the first story below, described engagements that were far more tense and deadly.  As Reuters correspondent Samia Nakhoul said, "The Iraqis are definitely fighting back.''  - wrp

By Reuters

Monday 7 April 2003

BAGHDAD - Iraqi snipers crouched behind bridges and artillery fire rang out from almost every direction on Monday as Iraqi forces defended Baghdad against U.S. troops who had thrust into the heart of the city.

The urban warfare that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein promised the invading forces finally began as dozens of U.S. tanks rumbled into the city of five million people and entered two presidential compounds on the west bank of the Tigris.

"Iraqi forces are blocking streets all over town and their artillery is in action,'' Reuters correspondent Samia Nakhoul said. "The Iraqis are definitely fighting back.''

The white dust of mortar mingled with a sandstorm that cloaked the city on Monday morning obstructing visibility as the thud of artillery and mortar bombs reverberated across the capital, especially toward the west and south.

Artillery shells, apparently Iraqi, crashed into the presidential compound on the west bank of the Tigris river, where American tanks took up positions early on Monday.

A Reuters photographer saw other shells, apparently American, landing in the gardens of the nearby Al-Rashid Hotel and information ministry.

Almost the only people walking the streets were Iraqi soldiers in full combat gear or fighters in civilian clothes.

Residents hid indoors to escape the crackling automatic fire and exploding shells. State television showed old footage of Saddam and played patriotic songs.

Almost the only non-military vehicles were ambulances evacuating casualties, and pick-up trucks loaded with people fleeing the city.

"GRILLING THEIR STOMACHS''

U.S. forces said they captured two presidential compounds in Baghdad, including the main Republican palace, which has been the target of almost three weeks of U.S. air and missile raids.

The palace stretches for more than 12 km (about seven miles) on the western bank of the Tigris. It houses the headquarters of the Republican Guards, the elite fighting force commanded by Saddam's youngest son Qusay.

Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf told reporters Iraqi forces were slaughtering the enemy and denied that U.S. tanks had captured the palaces.

"As our leader Saddam Hussein said, God is grilling their stomachs in hell,'' said Sahaf, standing defiantly on a roof in central Baghdad and ignoring U.S. tanks a few hundred meters (yards) away on the other bank of the Tigris.

"Fighting is continuing in the main battlefields. Baghdad is secured and fortified and Baghdadis are heroes.''

Iraqi snipers crouched behind the shoulders of one bridge across the Tigris, pointing their guns toward U.S. forces to the south. Artillery was firing from the same position.

Two U.S. soldiers and two journalists were killed and 15 people wounded when an Iraqi rocket hit a U.S. communications center on Baghdad's southern fringe, U.S. military sources said.

"There's still fighting going on,'' Lieutenant Colonel Peter Bayer, operations officer for the 3rd Infantry Division, told Reuters correspondent Luke Baker.

"STILL SOME WORK TO DO''

"The fact that Iraqi forces are still fighting against U.S. forces shows that there is still some work to do,'' he said, adding that the rocket seemed to come from the south, indicating continued Iraqi resistance behind U.S. lines.

In a separate incident, two Marines were killed trying to secure two bridges on the eastern outskirts of the city. Marines told Reuters two of their comrades were killed and three wounded when an artillery shell fired by their own side fell short.

Reuters correspondent Matthew Green said the Marines later secured the bridges and crossed with tanks and armored vehicles. They then took on Iraqi Special Republican Guard units on the Baghdad side of the river, he said.

The western side of the Tigris, which is called Karkh, was deserted, including a villa complex housing senior Saddam aides.

Iraqi soldiers pointed their rocket-propelled grenades at cars coming over the bridge from that direction. Huge concrete blocks thrown on the bridge allowed only narrow passage.

Symbols of Saddam's power, such as security complexes and the military industrialization headquarters, lie in the west.

Republican Guards took positions behind the information and foreign ministry buildings, firing rocket-propelled grenades in the direction of U.S. troops a few hundred meters (yards) away.

The information ministry was abandoned after missiles hit it earlier in the war. The bridge next to the ministry was open.

Iraqi television on Monday twice relayed a call to arms from Saddam, which was first broadcast on Sunday.

"President Saddam has issued an order...to all the fighters. If you find it difficult to join your unit for any reason you should join the unit that you can find until further notice.''

Seven police cars drove around the center near the Palestine Hotel where many journalists are staying, with uniformed men honking horns and firing into the air and waving the Iraqi flag.

"Glory of the Arabs! We will defend you, Saddam, with our blood!'' they shouted. Scores of civilians, with their belongings or without, chose instead to flee the bombardment.

"I think 80 percent of the people have left to the east to escape bombardment,'' said Ali, a resident of Saddam City, a sprawling slum on the outskirts of Baghdad.

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Last modified on Monday, 21 April 2008 13:38