Fisk: Baghdad Airport
- Allies 'seize most of Baghdad airport'
By Robert Fisk in Baghdad and Donald Macintyre in Qatar
04 April 2003
The Americans opened their offensive against Saddam Hussein's capital
when ground forces swept into Baghdad's international airport under
cover of darkness.
During the assault, an air strike on a village south of the city
reportedly killed up to 83 people and wounded hundreds of others. The
troops encountered almost no opposition from Iraqi forces and secured
part of the airport complex with tanks and other armoured units in
pitch darkness, according to Bob Schmidt, a correspondent with ABC
News embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division. The airport assault was
led by a combination of special operations forces and the 82nd
But this morning Iraqi forces were reported to have moved out of
Baghdad to mount a counter-attack. The road from the city to the
airport was controlled by the Iraqis and reporters with American
forces reported heavy fighting.
Colonel Will Grimsley, commanding officer of the 3rd Infantry
Division's 1st Brigade, told Sky News: "It was almost spooky here
last night because there was virtually nothing. It was quiet. It was
very dark and we came through. We occupied positions ... Right around
first light it was as if they looked around and said 'Holy cow
Where did all these Americans come from?' "
At almost the same time as the airport was being attacked yesterday,
explosions detonated in Baghdad's two main power stations one on
each side of the Tigris river depriving the city of all electrical
power for the first time since the Anglo-American invasion two weeks
ago. The power had still not been restored this morning.
US sources indicated last night that troops had discovered a tunnel
system under the airport, a section of which stretched back to the
river Tigris. Early today, US forces claimed they controlled 75-80
per cent of the vast airport complex several miles in diameter.
The most horrifying reports came first from the village of Furat on
the airport road, where dozens of bodies were said to be heaped in a
hospital mortuary after a missile attack; hundreds were also recorded
by a witness to have been wounded. It was unclear whether the victims
included soldiers, although first reports said civilians made up the
majority of the casualties.
For much of the night, the city vibrated with the sound of huge
explosions and the more distant sound of shellfire. All day, the
Iraqis had been denying the imminence of an American attack and
after US reports that its forces had arrived at the perimeter of the
airport took journalists to the runways to prove the Allies were not
present. The Independent found only seven armed guards outside the
terminals, whose departure lounges and concourse were empty, and just
two passenger jets and a military helicopter standing idle on the
For the previous 12 hours, the Iraqis had been recording military
victories against the Americans. Told that US troops may be near the
airport, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, sat back in a chair
on a manicured lawn in the centre of the city and proclaimed that "it
is a dream they will never come to Baghdad".
Mohammed Saeed-al Sahaf, the Information Minister, dismissed reports
of coalition troops closing in on the capital as "silly". He
said: "They are nowhere near Baghdad. Their allegations are a cover-
up for their failure."
In reality, an American siege and occupation of the city would take
weeks, perhaps months, but capture of the airport would allow troop-
carrying aircraft to land. Since the city is 27 miles wide, an all-
out assault could be an operation of epic proportions.
But the United States and Britain may be calculating that capture of
the airport would provide such a shock to the regime that it would
collapse within hours. The fierce fighting for Basra, Nasiriyah,
Najaf, Karbala and other cities suggests that Baghdad would not
succumb so easily. Either way, a new and dangerous phase of the war
began last night with the Americans trying to choke Baghdad off from
the rest of the world and to break President Saddam's rule over Iraq.
The greatest danger remains that an attack into Baghdad would unleash
a civil war between Sunni and Shia Muslims. The Iraqi government has
insisted the country will remain solid in its resistance to the
United States. The Americans fondly believe their occupation will
provide the glue to hold the country together. But as an embryo siege
of Baghdad began last night, these aspirations were hanging by the
America denied speculation that its forces had launched a "blackout
bomb" to plunge the city into darkness to facilitate such operations.
Lead units of the multipronged US Army and Marine assault forces also
raided a presidential palace, Thar-Thar, about 55 miles north of
Baghdad. The palace is said to have been used as a leisure facility
by President Saddam and members of the regime. Brigadier General
Vincent Brooks told reporters documents had been recovered that could
prove useful. He also said special forces had "established positions"
in the north near the main road from the capital to Tikrit, President
Saddam's home town. Brigadier General Brooks showed footage of
special forces taking control of the Haditha dam to the north of the
4 April 2003 19:57