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Iraq: Desert Dispatch -- The 'Main Effort Is Over' As Baghdad Defenses Crumble

  • Ron Synovitz

Baghdad, 9 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. military says Baghdad is no longer under the control of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime. The U.S. says it believes the situation in Iraq has reached a turning point where residents recognize that Saddam's government no longer has authority. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz is in northern Baghdad with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division. In this "Desert Dispatch," filed at around 12:00 p.m. today, he speaks of some of the challenges facing U.S. troops as they secure more and more of the capital.

Question: What are the challenges for U.S. troops as they gain control of more and more of Baghdad?

Synovitz: Last night was one of the more quiet nights around Baghdad during the last week as far as U.S. air strikes are concerned. One reason for that may be that U.S. troops from different combat groups have been coming closer to each other as they have been advancing into different parts of Baghdad. I witnessed an episode last night where an American combat team from one brigade almost came under fire from another American company that was firing at abandoned Iraqi vehicles. There were some American scouts who were trying to help lead a wounded American out of the area, and they lost two tires on their Humvee because of ricocheting American tank fire at those abandoned Iraqi vehicles.

So it is getting more complicated for the U.S. troops as they are coming into the city, not only because they are having difficulties determining the difference between civilians and Iraqi soldiers -- since at this point almost no Iraqi soldiers are wearing uniforms anymore but only civilian clothes -- and also because the areas of operations for the different combat teams are starting to bump into each other.

Question: Where are you today? Can you describe the scene?

Synovitz: I am on the north side of Baghdad, and there is a giant mosque, a rather palatial-looking mosque. One should say that it has rather the appearance of totalitarian architecture to it. Towering minarets and a very large dome. It contrasts greatly to a lot of the poverty we've seen in the rest of the country. It appears to be a mosque that the government has spent a lot of money on to bolster the popularity of their regime.

At the same time, there are dozens of buildings around the mosque, immediately adjacent to it, that are filled with ammunition and which appear to have been used by Iraqi soldiers as barracks recently. Also, there are literally scores of Iraqi military trucks loaded with ammunition parked all around this mosque. It's causing a lot of problems for the U.S. soldiers. They can't destroy this ammunition because it will cause secondary explosions that may damage the mosque or cause threats to any U.S. troops in the area.

Question: Are there any signs of a clear, long-term strategy by the coalition forces regarding Baghdad?

Synovitz: The goal has always been stated by the U.S. military leaders here to create the conditions for regime change. Not to create a regime change, but to create the conditions. The implication is that they wanted to have some kind of a revolution or a palace coup fostered by the presence of U.S. troops in the area.

What we're seeing strategically in Baghdad over the last week now is that U.S. forces have been coming in piecemeal, taking parts of the city, capturing and controlling the main highways -- first around the city, then going through the city, running some raids into the city limits of Baghdad last Saturday [5 April], not holding those positions but destroying organized concentrations of Iraqi troops, destroying the command-and-control infrastructure of the Iraqi Army and then isolating the Iraqi fighting units into literally individual foot soldiers with an AK-47 or groups of two or three with an AK-47, mortar, or RPG launcher.

Question: What do the rank-and-file soldiers say about the fighting?

Synovitz: One U.S. soldier who's a gunner in a Bradley troop carrier told me that it seems to him that the main effort is over. He's no longer seeing any Iraqi armor or Iraqi military units. It's really down to fighting a few hardcore individual soldiers who are trying to attack American armor with nothing more than an automatic assault rifle.