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U.S. Units Take Iraqi Presidential Palace

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 7, 2003 – Units of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division took the Presidential Palace in downtown Baghdad, demonstrating to the world that coalition forces can move at will, U.S. Central Command officials said today.

Briefing the press in Qatar, Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said this second attack in downtown Baghdad "reinforces the reality that the regime is not in control of the city." Brooks is CENTCOM's deputy operations chief.

News reports said tanks and armored personnel carriers encountered Iraqi resistance as they moved into these areas, but they described it as "light" and not affecting coalition operations.

At the same time American soldiers were occupying the palace and parade ground, Iraqi spokesman Mohammad Saeed Safel was saying the Americans were "committing suicide" on the walls of Baghdad, and that he had not seen an American inside Baghdad.

An American command post was right across the street from the Ministry of Information. In a broadcast report from media embedded with that unit, an American colonel volunteered to go over and say "hi."

In another important development, U.S. Marines linked up with 5th Corps troops and also attacked along the Diyala River. This has isolated the city, Brooks said.

Northwest of Baghdad, 5th Corps units attacked the enemy and cut off the city from reinforcements. The attack destroyed an Iraqi unit composed of tanks, armored personnel carriers, other armored vehicles, artillery systems and infantry personnel, the general said.

U.S. forces continued to consolidate their hold on Baghdad International Airport, and Iraqi airport workers are helping coalition forces get the airport running again, he said. CENTCOM officials said a U.S. C-130 transport plane landed at the airport Sunday.

British forces have made significant progress in Iraq's second-largest city, Basra. Brooks noted that the British are reducing the remaining concentrations of the regime's Ba'ath Party officials and death squads. "There are still some pockets (of resistance), but they are far fewer," he said.

Even while coalition forces continue combat actions in Basra, power, water and food are becoming available to the city's 1.2 million people, Brooks said. "Of course, there is still work to be done in getting those distributed," he said.

Coalition air forces continue to hit targets that could deliver chemical weapons. This includes aircraft, surface- to-surface missile sites and artillery positions, Brooks said. British forces reported a coalition air strike killed "Chemical Ali" Ali Hassan al-Najeed. The Iraqi general had launched chemical attacks 1983-1988 that killed thousands of Iranians and Iraqis. He was a first cousin of Saddam Hussein.

Air forces also continued the close-air support mission throughout the country. On April 6, coalition air forces launched about 850 sorties, with 600 being strike missions. Roughly three-quarters of those strike sorties were in support of coalition ground forces. There were also roughly 400 tanker missions and 425 airlift missions. Defense officials said 70 percent of munitions dropped to date are precision-guided.

Coalition special operations forces continued with unconventional warfare in northern Iraq, southern Iraq and central Iraq, Brooks said. "These efforts are key in facilitating air operations in the north and in the west, and by the land component in the center and in the south of Iraq."

Special Forces soldiers also are working with Free Iraqi Forces against the regime, he said.

Special operations forces are launching direct actions missions to secure resources, deny ballistic missile launching sites and to destroy regime headquarters locations whenever they are identified. "Another direct action example is a raid last night to seize a training camp near Hadithah," Brooks said.

Brooks said that coalition forces continue to flow in the region. He said the command is "cautiously optimistic" with events in the country, but warns that much fighting remains.

He said the command continues to treat the possibility of regime use of chemical weapons as a possibility. Coalition forces continue to monitor suspected chemical weapons sites, to hit the means of delivery and to look for assembly areas. News reports out of the region said that coalition forces have found chemical weapons near Karbala, but DoD officials could not confirm the report.

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