The Washington Times


April 10, 2003
Section: PAGE ONE

Page: A01

Rowan Scarborough and Bill Gertz, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Baghdad fell yesterday and Iraqis cheered in the streets after American infantrymen seized deserted Ba'ath Party ministries and pulled down a huge iron statue of Saddam Hussein, ending his autocratic 24-year rule of Iraq.

Greeted by jubilant crowds that grew larger in the capital's downtown as word spread of the U.S. arrival, the Army soldiers and Marines took control of the Defense and Information ministries, and Iraqi TV and radio. Just the day before, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said his forces had defeated the Americans at Baghdad's gate.

But Mr. Sahhaf and other ruling Ba'ath Party officials were nowhere to be seen. Expected stiff resistance from Saddam's most loyal defenders, the Special Republican Guard, never materialized this week, although Fedayeen Saddam guerrillas attempted several fruitless counterattacks.

On a mild spring afternoon, Baghdad suddenly changed hands from a Saddam-centered police state to a U.S.-led alliance whose goal is to destroy Ba'ath rule in the country and point it toward democracy.

"We have defeated [Saddam] militarily," declared Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the Army's Georgia-based 3rd Infantry Division, which boldly entered the city Monday and claimed two of the dictator's 48 palaces.

"We have taken away his ability to command and control," the general said. "The end of the combat phase is days away. There may be more combat in the north, but in Baghdad and the south the end of the combat phase is days away."

TV networks carried live scenes of a remarkable event: U.S. troops taking over one of the world's great capitals. The vast majority of Baghdad's buildings still stood, a testament to allied precision bombing.

U.S. soldiers and Marines parked their tanks and armored personnel carriers as they pleased throughout the downtown. The columns of armored vehicles had entered the city uncontested around 4 p.m. Baghdad time.

The Americans chatted with the massing crowd, while watching for snipers and truck-borne Fedayeen.

The 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, moved a tank-recovery vehicle into Firdos Square and pulled down the lassoed statue of Saddam at 6:50 p.m. Baghdad time. Iraqis then took it apart with hands and hammers, and dragged pieces, including the head, through the streets.

"They got it down," President Bush exclaimed as he watched the scene at the White House, according to spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Mr. Fleischer said it is too soon to declare victory. Iraq's southern and central cities are now under allied control, but the north remains nominally under Iraqi control.

"The president has said that this is a military mission, that the military remains in harm's way, and until the military mission is accomplished, I don't think the president is going to be at that point in his own mind," he said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, one of the administration's leading advocates of toppling Saddam, warned that "there are difficult and very dangerous days ahead and that the fighting will continue for some period."

But the freeing of Baghdad from the Saddam regime, he said, is momentous in human history.

"The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad are breathtaking," the defense secretary said at the Pentagon. "Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain. We are seeing history unfold, events that will shape the course of a country, the fate of a people, and potentially the future of the region."

Shamoun George, one of Baghdad's 5 million residents, said: "We are relieved because for years we lived in anxiety and fear."

The capital's fall came 35 years after the Arab nationalist Ba'ath Party took power in a coup and killed Iraq's royal family, 24 years after Saddam assumed the mantle of president, 20 days after the Army and Marines dashed from Kuwait on parallel 350-mile marches to the city, and three days after the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division entered the capital for good and took up residence in some of the dictator's most opulent palaces on the Tigris River.

There was no immediate word on the whereabouts of Saddam, and his most visible deputies: his sons Uday and Qusai, Mr. al-Sahhaf, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz or Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan.

"Saddam Hussein is now taking his rightful place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed, brutal dictators, and the Iraqi people are well on their way to freedom," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

There was also no word on the fate of seven U.S. prisoners of war. The seven Army soldiers - five supply personnel and two Apache helicopter aviators - may have been in a Baghdad military prison. Some of their bloody military clothing was found by invading Marines on Tuesday.

The Pentagon said yesterday that 101 U.S. service members have died in the war - from hostile fire, "friendly fire" and battlefield accidents - and 11 are listed as missing. The British government said 30 of its soldiers have died.

On Monday, at 3 p.m. Baghdad time, an Air Force B-1B bomber dropped 8,000 pounds of bombs on a building in the city believed to hold Saddam, Ba'ath members and top officials in the Iraqi Intelligence Service, or Mukhabarat. The CIA has not confirmed whether Saddam was killed.

"It's hard to find them if they're buried under rubble. We don't know," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "And he's not been around. He's not active. Therefore, he's either dead or he's incapacitated, or he's healthy and cowering in some tunnel someplace, trying to avoid being caught."

The regime's command authority may be gone, but the war goes on. Most northern cites remain under Iraqi control.

Most important is Tikrit, Saddam's hometown and a Sunni Muslim stronghold where some retreating troops may have gathered. Coalition air strikes continued in the north against a brigade-size element of the Adnan Division, the last functioning unit of the bombed-out Republican Guard that was supposed to keep the Americans out of Baghdad.

But for a day, at least, the war seemed to pause.

Jubilant Iraqis greeted the U.S. tanks and armored personnel carriers as if a parade had come to the capital. Soldiers searched rooftops for remnants of Fedayeen, as TV reporters stuck microphones in their faces and children touched their uniforms. Infantrymen who weathered wicked sandstorms, little sleep and many battles were suddenly celebrities.

Taking the capital was the top war objective of Gen. Tommy Franks, the allied commander, whose force of 120,000 ground troops now controls most of Iraq.

He gambled that a fast rush to Baghdad by about 60,000 troops - the Army along the Euphrates River, the Marines along the Tigris as they bypassed southern cities - would put early pressure on Baghdad.

Once within 50 to 100 miles of the capital after the first week, Navy and Air Force jets began seven days of targeting Saddam's vaunted Republican Guard. The ground troops finished them off and rung the city, before the Army seized downtown property Monday. Of the Guard's 600 prewar tanks, the U.S. counts only a few dozen remaining.

Gen. Franks' troops now stake claim to all of Baghdad's organs of power: the political and military headquarters, TV and radio stations, palaces, the secret police station and electric power generation.

The Shi'ite areas on the east side, long oppressed by Saddam's Sunni rule, greeted Marines as they moved toward the city center. Some residents tossed flowers and ran up to the vehicles to shake hands.

Marines engaged in a sporadic firefight before seizing Baghdad University. CNN showed video footage of rifle-toting Marines storming the campus, as some faculty remained seated and watched.

The major remaining objective within Baghdad is the sprawling west side, which includes Mansur, where Saddam was targeted Monday. The Sunni enclave may put up the Ba'ath's last stand in the form of guerrilla-style Fedayeen armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades.

"I suspect some are still fighting in Baghdad," said Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman. "It's also possible that they have tried to leave or blend in if they've lost their enthusiasm for supporting this regime. And we're taking steps to deal with that in terms of interdicting the roads out of Baghdad."

In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the staunchest U.S. ally, said he was delighted at the outpouring of joy in Baghdad but said, "It's not over yet."

"There are still some very difficult things to do, and as we speak there is still intense resistance ... among those parts of Saddam's regime that want to cling on to power," said Mr. Blair, whose nation contributed more than 40,000 troops to the war.

U.S. intelligence agencies have begun the job of hunting down Ba'ath leaders, who may be subjected to war-crimes charges. One job given to U.S. special- operations teams is to find and capture, or kill, such "high-value targets," as the military calls them.

Another project is to find Iraq's chemical and biological weapons - the stated reason for going to war.

Mr. Rumsfeld urged Iraqis to tell their stories of Saddam's cruelty to the hundreds of journalists embedded with combat units.

He also said the United States wants to obtain internal documents for such groups as the Iraqi Intelligence Service, the Fedayeen and the Special Security Organization.

The Washington Times reported during the war that a special-operations unit has been assigned the task of finding and securing such papers as a way to document war crimes.

At least one senior Ba'athist seems to have thrown in the towel.

"The game is over," said Mohammed al-Douri, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, as reporters found him entering his Manhattan town house.

"I hope the peace will prevail," Mr. al-Douri said. "I hope the Iraqi people will have a happy life."

*This article is based in part on wire service reports.