Centcom: More Fighting Ahead Despite Jubilation in Baghdad

Published April 09, 2003

| Associated Press

Saddam Hussein's government is no longer in control of Baghdad, but coalition forces are planning for resistance in other cities, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday.

"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.

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

"Today the regime is in disarray and much of Iraq is free from years of oppression," Brooks said.

He said the coalition was planning for possible resistance in other cities. U.S. troops have tried to block the roads from Baghdad to Tikrit to stop Iraqi leaders from fleeing there.

A mix of Republican Guards and militia fighters were also holding out in the oil centers of Mosul and Kirkuk, he said.

"We certainly are focused on Tikrit," Brooks said at the U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar "I'm not going to predispose to say when will go in.

"There is still work to be done."

Noting scenes of celebration in the Iraqi capital, Brooks said there were still some "engagements" in the center of the city around bridges.

"We're not finding hostile behavior from the population," he said. "We believe the population recognizes that the end is near (for Saddam's government)."

In the north, Special Operations troops and Kurdish soldiers seized a small town approximately 15 miles north of Mosul and captured 200 fighters, Brooks said.

He said there was also attacks on Iraqi positions 20 miles south of Irbil, and that special operations forces supported by aircraft destroyed tanks and cargo trucks there.

In all, coalition forces have taken more than 7,000 Iraqi prisoners of war, he said.

Street celebrations erupted Wednesday in Baghdad, especially in Shiite Muslim neighborhoods, after fighting subsided overnight. People ripped down pictures of President Saddam Hussein and looted government buildings of furniture and appliances.

"With every day that passes we break more of the grip of the regime," Brooks said.

U.S. officials warned there was still resistance from Saddam's forces, even in some pockets of the capital city.

Brooks said the First Marine Expeditionary Force moved across the Diala River into the southeast corner of Baghdad. Troops also advanced along the west edge of the river into the northeast corner of Baghdad to block roads leading out of the city.

"There are still many days of perhaps fierce fighting to follow," said Capt. Frank Thorp, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, adding that U.S. forces in the heart of Baghdad are still running into "sporadic but fierce firefights."

He said there were several areas of Iraq where coalition ground troops have yet to arrive, specifically mentioning Tikrit, where the Air Force, Navy, Marines as well as British aircraft were conducting strikes against military targets on Wednesday.

"So it's not over," Thorp said. "We're seeing good signs here, but I would definitely stay on the cautious side and say we still have more to come."

Thorp called the open celebrations a sign that the end of the regime was near.

"These are great visuals. They've been the objective of what this operation is all about," he said, adding that U.S. civil affairs troops were in Baghdad and other cities to help Iraqis move away from lawlessness and re-establish civil order.

But U.S. forces were still running into Republican Guard fighters in Baghdad.

"It's still a combat situation. We have to stay on our toes," Thorp said.

Group Capt. Al Lockwood, a British spokesman at Sayliyah, said TV footage of people in Basra showed they were "celebrating liberation" from Saddam's regime.

Lockwood said British troops have contacted local figures and tribal leaders in Basra to deal with looting and preserve property. He said the British have an obligation under international law to stop the looting.

British troops were in close contact with local leaders but would not reinstall the same leadership that was in place under Saddam, Lockwood said.

"We have asked them (the people of Basra) to chose their own leadership that will take them to the future," he said.

As looting swept through the capital, Brooks said the U.S. troops would eventually move to restore order.

However, he said expected much of the unrest to die down naturally as the euphoria of the regime's collapse wore off.

"We believe that this will settle down in due time. It has already begun to settle down in Basra," he said.

"Some of this occurs as a result of a vacuum that is created in the interim period between the departure of the regime, or the perception of the departure of the regime, and the establishment of conditions that move on a path of normalcy," he said.

URL

http://www.foxnews.com/story/2003/04/09/centcom-more-fighting-ahead-despite-jubilation-in-baghdad