Friday, December 08, 2006

America in Iraq - the first days

Blackout as blasts rock Baghdad
U.S Army tanks on their way to Baghdad after destroying an Iraqi military vehicle on the outskirts of the city on Thursday. — AP
BAGHDAD April 3. The Iraqi capital plunged into darkness tonight as loud explosions rocked the city and tracer rounds raced through the sky near the airport. South of Baghdad, U.S. troops surged toward the capital, passing roads littered with combat boots.
The Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, meanwhile, exhorted the Iraqi people to fight back. ``Fight them with your hands. God will disgrace them. God is great,'' he said in a statement the Information Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, read today on Iraqi satellite television.
At a news conference, Mr. al-Sahhaf disputed coalition claims of battle successes. ``All this is to cover their disappointment and inability,'' he said.
``They are not even 160 km away from Baghdad," he said earlier. ``They are not anywhere. They are like a snake moving in the desert. They have no foothold in Iraq... They do not even control Umm Qasr,'' he said, referring to the southern port city held by British forces.
Artillery fire could be heard near the Saddam International Airport, 16 km southwest of downtown Baghdad. Tracer rounds raced through the sky and shells exploded in the air.
A Reuters reporter said dozens of Iraqis, including civilians and soldiers, were killed in the village of Furat near the airport today evening in what witnesses said was a U.S. rocket strike.
He said more than 120 people were wounded in the attack on the village, which lies between the airport and the Iraqi capital. Iraqi officials put the toll at 83.
In Baghdad, the explosions persisted for nearly 15 minutes before the power went off at about 8 p.m. — the first widespread electrical failure in the capital since the U.S.-led bombardment began two weeks ago. The entire city appeared without power. The reason for the loss of power was not immediately clear.
Eight civilians died and five were wounded today by a missile that hit a vegetable market at Nahrawan on the southeastern edge of Baghdad.
U.S.-led forces had made big advances overnight, with troops closing in on the capital from the southwest, crossing the Euphrates river and Marines approaching from the southeast in a long column along the Tigris river.
One U.S. soldier was killed by friendly fire today in the hours-long skirmish south of Baghdad. Three were wounded by Iraqi fire, and three soldiers collapsed from heat exhaustion.
Paving the way, special forces infiltrated some Iraqi command posts in the Baghdad area. Another group of commandos raided the Thar Thar presidential palace, in a resort area about 90 km northwest of Baghdad.
``We are getting closer and closer,'' U.S. Navy Capt. Frank Thorp said at U.S. Central Command in Qatar today afternoon. ``We will be in Baghdad within a matter of hours from when we decide to go.''
Two U.S. aircraft went down on Wednesday near the city of Karbala, 80 km south of Baghdad — a Navy Hornet and an Army Black Hawk helicopter. U.S. officials said six soldiers aboard the Black Hawk were killed, while the Navy pilot was missing. After initially reporting that both aircraft were downed by Iraqi fire, officials said the cause in each case was not yet determined.
Despite the successful push toward Baghdad, senior U.S. commanders sought to lower expectations of an imminent takeover of the capital.
The Americans may soon face a choice between continuing their advance into the city of five million people, with the possibility of costly street fighting, or waiting for reinforcements while giving Iraqis a chance to challenge Mr. Hussein's regime themselves.
A report from Dubai, quoting the Jeddah-based Arab News, said two Western journalists were allegedly arrested, beaten up and deprived of food and water in Iraq by U.S. Army personnel.
Luis Castro and Victor Silva, both reporters working for RTP Portuguese Television, were allegedly held for four days and their equipment, vehicle and videotapes confiscated.
In Brussels, the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, meeting with NATO and European Union members today, said the U.S. — not the United Nations — must have the lead role in Iraq's post-war reconstruction. ``There will definitely be a United Nations role, but what the exact nature of that role will be remains to be seen,'' he said. — AP, AFP, Reuters, PTI

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