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Fisk: Baghdad Airport

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  • ummyakoub
    Allies seize most of Baghdad airport http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=393788 By Robert Fisk in Baghdad and Donald Macintyre in
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 9, 2003
      Allies 'seize most of Baghdad airport'

      http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=393788

      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
      Airborne.

      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
      runways.

      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
      proverbial thread.

      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
      city.
      4 April 2003 19:57
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