US storms Baghdad airport

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Posted by Sadie from D006248.N1.Vanderbilt.Edu ( on Friday, April 04, 2003 at 0:55AM :

I can't remember if the reporter from BBC World News tonight said that Baghdad did not have running water right now. It's something to worry about, though.

It's so sad. Over 300 Iraqi troops are killed in one battle for defending their homeland, their lives, their families, & their memories.... They are not the aggressors. Their deaths should be counted as crimes, just like civilian deaths, in my opinion.

Friday, 4 April, 2003, 05:42 GMT 06:42 UK
BBC World News

US storms Baghdad airport

United States troops have taken control of much of Baghdad's international airport, US military sources said.

Troops of the 3rd Infantry Division fought their way into the airport after a heavy bombardment on Thursday evening but were still checking the facilities as dawn broke.

The Iraqi authorities turned back a BBC correspondent trying to reach the airport from inside the city and appear to be piling reinforcements into the area.

Power and water supplies have been cut in the Iraqi capital, threatening a humanitarian crisis.

US reports speak of at least 320 Iraqi soldiers killed in the fighting in which about 1,000 American troops were deployed.

General Richard Myers, the top US military officer, warned that there were "still a lot of tough fights ahead".

"Nobody should be euphoric that now that we are on the edge of Baghdad this thing is just about over," he said. "That's not true."

Major John Altman, an intelligence officer with the 3rd Infantry, told AFP at the airport that the troops controlled "probably 80%" of the airport.

But it would not, he said, be secure "until you've gone to every room of every building - there's a lot of buildings".

Heavy machine-gun fire could be heard in the background as he spoke but it appeared to be coming from outside the airport.

In other developments:

The foreign ministers of France, Germany and Russia are due to meet in Paris to discuss the Iraqi crisis

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rules out any peace deal which would allow Saddam Hussein to remain in power in Iraq

US Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United Nations will have a role in running post-war Iraq but coalition members must have the leading role in deciding the way forward

Ayatollah Sistani, a prominent cleric for Iraq's majority Shia Muslims, issues an edict calling on people to remain calm and not hinder operations by coalition forces
Strategic importance

In Baghdad, the BBC's Andrew Gilligan tried to travel to the airport on Friday morning but was turned back about a mile from the terminal.

He counted 14 lorryloads of troops speeding out towards the airport but could hear no sounds of battle.

This first land fighting in Baghdad, only 20 kilometres (12 miles) south-west of the city centre, erupted on Thursday evening after a ferocious bombardment.

Baghdad was plunged into darkness overnight by its first blackout of the war which cut in as the bombardment of the airport began.

Western correspondents travelling with the US Army said light tanks moved into the airport late on Thursday, encountering only light resistance on the way in.

But large explosions continued to shake both the airport district and the city centre and fighting was still in progress at dawn.

A Reuters correspondent in Baghdad counted as many as 100 explosions through the night coming from the direction of the airport.

In addition to the Iraqi casualties, the US reported seizing 31 pieces of anti-aircraft artillery among other hardware.

There have been no reports of US casualties at the airport.

A BBC correspondent at Central Command in Qatar, Peter Hunt, says the capture of the airport would both have propaganda value for the coalition and strategic importance as another airstrip to use to bring in supplies.

Siege mentality

Correspondents report that life in Baghdad had a semblance of normality as Friday dawned with buses and cars on the streets though power was still down.

The population had spent the night gathered around candlelight and listening to the explosions, the BBC's Paul Wood reports.

Power in the city had gone off as the bombardment began, the lights disappearing in district after district.

It is unclear if coalition action caused the blackout and water cut but the BBC's Andrew Gilligan says it seems unlikely the Iraqi authorities would have cut supplies themselves.

General Myers has denied targeting the power grid and coalition forces have repeatedly stressed they do not want to damage civilian infrastructure.

The general has given an indication of possible coalition strategy for the capital, saying it may try to isolate whatever is left of the leadership in Baghdad and make it increasingly irrelevant.

"This notion of a siege and so forth, I think is not the right mental picture," he added.

Iraq's influential Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, told Italian TV that any fight for Baghdad would be "huge and costly".

-- Sadie
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