Resistance weakens as US units push into Baghdad
By Paul Eedle in Baghdad, Financial Times
Published: Apr 08, 2003
The assault began in the grey light of dawn. Artillery and bomb explosions thundered across Baghdad and planes roared overhead.
Television cameramen and photographers in the Palestine hotel, a mile away from Saddam Hussein's main presidential palace on the other side of the Tigris river, captured images of soldiers running away from positions by the waterside, some in their underwear.
Minutes later, four Bradley armoured fighting vehicles advanced along an embankment, firing into Iraqi dugouts in the sandbank of the river. A line of half a dozen US soldiers moved forward in the cover of each vehicle. One Bradley blasted a fuel tank buried in the sand and it erupted in flame and oily smoke. Another shot into an ammunition dump which smouldered and then exploded and crackled for an hour.
Some Iraqis fought back fiercely, firing rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, which had no effect on the Bradleys' armour. One soldier hid behind a lamppost, then crept up on one of the vehicles and lobbed a grenade at the US troops beside it. But the grenade fell short.
Channel 4 News cameraman Tim Lambon caught pictures of two Iraqis apparently surrendering, walking towards one of the US vehicles with their hands up. American soldiers swung round with their rifles and the men stretched out flat on their faces on the ground. But then one of the men rolled over and raised his arm; two shots rang out and his body convulsed. He was later left for dead by a US army paramedic.
Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, Iraqi information minister, sent journalists in three buses to prove the Americans had not advanced to the Information Ministry and the Rasheed hotel, north of the presidential compound.
We drove through silent streets past knots of soldiers with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades and found the Information Ministry under Iraqi control; but fighters in civilian clothes turned us back before we could reach the Rasheed.
But in the presidential compound, the battle was over. US soldiers relaxed by their vehicles, offering each other food.
Driving around streets east of the river before dusk, it was clear that many of the fighters who had been manning sandbagged emplacements on street corners and outside shops had abandoned their positions.
Soldiers with anti-tank weapons were still dug in at a big roundabout at the base of a bridge leading south across the Tigris, but elsewhere only a few knots of fighters remained. Most of the people on the streets were civilians, including many women and children.
People seemed to sense that change was near but knew it was still too dangerous to speak out. A man selling vegetables asked my nationality, and when I said "British", he stuck up his thumb and beamed.
But when I asked him what he'd heard of the fighting, his friend whispered: "Don't talk to him. Shut up!"