Jubilant Iraqis Swarm Streets of Baghdad
By ELLEN KNICKMEYER and DAVID CRARY
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Jubilant crowds swarmed into Baghdad streets Wednesday, dancing, looting, defacing images of Saddam Hussein as U.S. commanders declared that his regime's rule over the capital had ended.
``The capital city is now one of those areas that has been added to the list of where the regime does not have control,'' said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks at U.S. Central Command in Qatar.
However, Brooks said that Saddam loyalists were holding out in the north, including Saddam's hometown of Tikrit and still posed a threat, including the possible use of weapons of mass destruction
Even as they encountered sniper fire from roving bands of holdout fighters, Marine and Army units swept through Baghdad, seizing or destroying buildings that once housed some of Saddam's most feared security forces. Marine tanks rolled into the commercial center, greeted by people cheering and waving white flags.
Civilians gestured to the Americans with V-for-victory signs. ``We were nearly mobbed by people trying to shake our hands,'' said Maj. Andy Milburn of the 7th Marines.
At police stations, universities, government ministries, the headquarters of the Iraq Olympic Committee, looters unhindered by any police presence made off with computers, furniture, telephones, even military jeeps. One young man used roller skates to wheel away a refrigerator.
``Thank you, thank you, Mr. Bush,'' some of the looters shouted. An elderly man beat a portrait of Saddam with his shoe, while a younger man spat on the portrait.
Not everyone rejoiced.
``This is the destruction of Islam,'' said Qassim al-Shamari, 50, a laborer wearing an Arab robe. ``After all, Iraq is our country. And what about all the women and children who died in the bombing?''
Even as most of the populace seemed suddenly to feel free of Saddam's control, U.S. officers said their forces faced continued resistance, fierce but disorganized, from small groups of holdout pro-Saddam fighters. The U.S Central Command reacted cautiously to the euphoria and chaos in Baghdad.
``There are still many days of perhaps fierce fighting to follow,'' said Capt. Frank Thorp, a command spokesman. ``There are other areas of the country where we have yet to be at... We're seeing good signs here, but I would definitely stay on the cautious side and say we still have more to come.''
U.S. commanders focused attention on targets to the north - including Tikrit, still a stronghold of loyalist troops, and the northern city of Mosul. Lt. Mark Kitchens, a Central Command spokesman, said special operations forces and airstrikes were ``actively engaging'' Iraqi forces in both cities.
U.S. special forces and Kurdish fighters seized a strategic hilltop near Mosul; senior Kurdish leader Hoshyar Zebari called it the most important gain in the region thus far.
The fate of Saddam remained unknown; his supporters retained control of the upscale Baghdad neighborhood targeted by four 2,000-pound bombs in a U.S. strike aimed at killing the Iraqi president.
Elsewhere in the capital, however, U.S. forces steadily expanded their reach, securing a military airport, capturing a prison, setting fire to a Republican Guard barracks. They are now operating in every quadrant of the city.
Maj. Gen. Buford Blount II, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, visited a command post set up at the New Presidential Palace, overlooking the Tigris River in central Baghdad. Col. David Perkins, whose 2nd Brigade was at the command post, told Blount his forces can go anywhere in the city.
The two commanders discussed what buildings could be used to house U.S. military units and a new government to replace Saddam's.
``That's the next mental jump, is for the Iraqis to realize that even if he (Saddam Hussein) is still alive, he's not in charge anymore,'' Perkins said.
The Iraqi government's efforts to sustain its public relations campaign collapsed. State television went off the air Tuesday, and on Wednesday, foreign journalists said their ``minders'' - government agents who monitor their reporting - did not turn up for work.
Also, there was no sign of Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, whose daily briefings have constituted the main public face of the regime during the war.
While intent on consolidating their hold on Baghdad, U.S. commanders also were turning their attention to Tikrit, Saddam's hometown in the desert about 90 miles to the north. Defended by well-trained troops, and home to many of Saddam's most devoted followers, the city of 260,000 is considered one of the few remaining strongholds of the Iraqi regime.
The Central Command said coalition airstrikes were targeting the Republican Guard's Adnan division in Tikrit, ``shaping the battlefield'' before U.S. ground forces move in.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of two main Iraqi Kurdish groups opposing Saddam, claimed Tuesday that Saddam already was hiding in Tikrit. U.S. officials said they didn't know if he had escaped Monday's bombing of a site in Baghdad's al-Mansour neighborhood where he and at least one of his sons reportedly were meeting.
The toll of journalists killed in the war reached 10, with three killed in U.S. military strikes in Baghdad on Tuesday
Two cameramen, one from Ukraine and one from Spain, were killed when a U.S. tank fired into the Palestine Hotel, where hundreds of journalists are based. U.S. officers initially said hostile fire had been coming from the building; journalists said they witnessed none.
Also, a Jordanian reporter was killed in a U.S. airstrike on the Baghdad office of the Arab television network al-Jazeera, which contended the attack was deliberate.
On Wednesday, the U.S. branch of Amnesty International joined in the criticism.
``Unless the U.S. can demonstrate that the Palestine Hotel had been used for military purposes, it was a civilian object protected under international humanitarian law that should not have been attacked,'' Amnesty said.
In the southern city of Basra, which was taken over by British forces this week, looters have been plundering government buildings, universities, even hospitals. A Red Cross representative said the looting could delay relief efforts in the city of 1.3 million.
Editor's Note: This story was written by David Crary in New York, based on reporting from Ellen Knickmeyer, Ravi Nessman, Chris Tomlinson, Alex Zavis and Hamza Hendawi in Baghdad and other AP reporters in Iraq and elsewhere.
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