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Iraq: U.S. Troops Seize Presidential Palaces; British Declare Battle For Basra 'Over'

Baghdad, 7 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. troops entered the center of Baghdad today, seizing two of Saddam Hussein's palace compounds. The U.S. military described the operation, involving tanks and armored vehicles, as a "show of force" rather than a final attack. Fighting was said to be heavy. At least four U.S. soldiers were reported to have died. Iraqi hospitals reported several civilian deaths and scores of injuries.

It wasn't clear how much of the capital remained under Iraqi control. U.S. forces were reportedly staying in the center after nightfall.

In Basra in the south, British troops declared the battle for Iraq's second-biggest city "more or less over" as thousands of soldiers entered the city. British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said soldiers were warmly received.

"U.K. forces were warmly received by crowds of local people, demonstrating that the coalition is winning the confidence and support of the Iraqi population. Power, water, and food are now assessed to be available to the majority of the population. Key facilities are being secured by British forces in Basra, bringing much-needed security, safety, and support," Hoon said.

Also today, reports say two U.S. soldiers and two journalists were killed and around 15 others wounded when a rocket hit a U.S. communications center on the southern outskirts of Baghdad. Two Polish journalists are reported missing after being abducted by armed men at a checkpoint south of Baghdad.

Also, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the U.S. military is testing samples from a site in Iraq where soldiers found possible chemical weapons. Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing today that such testing could take days before the presence of chemical weapons can be confirmed.

Soldiers from the army's 101st Airborne Division found the suspicious material in a compound near the Iraqi city of Hindiyah, about 90 kilometers south of Baghdad.

A reporter traveling with the unit said initial tests of samples from the facility were inconsistent. Rumsfeld said initial testing often turns out to be incorrect.