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Iraq: U.S., Iraqi Forces Battle For Control Of Baghdad Airport

Prague, 4 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. military says American forces are battling Iraqi troops early today for control of Saddam International Airport, 20 kilometers southwest of Baghdad. Captain Michael McKinnon of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division said U.S. forces have seized a foothold and now control about a third of the airport. He said U.S. planes are continuing to bombard the airport amid Iraqi antiaircraft fire.

Reports say U.S. air strikes killed a number of Iraqi troops near the airport.

News agencies say that the United States has deployed tanks, troops, and warplanes in a bid to control the airport.

Analysts say capturing the airport would greatly aid U.S. efforts to bring in more troops and munitions.

There also are reports early today of heavy coalition bombardment on central Baghdad. The Iraqi capital is still without electricity. The power went out last night. The cause of the blackout is unknown. The Pentagon said U.S. military forces did not target the power grid.

An Iraqi military spokesman said today Iraq is still in control of the southern city of Basra and that the capital Baghdad would "swallow whole" invading forces if they tried to breach it. Major General Hazem al-Rawi made the remarks on Iraqi satellite television.

Last night, Iraqi satellite television showed footage of President Saddam Hussein chairing a meeting of senior ministers. The television announcer said Hussein was discussing the state of Iraqi troops' battle readiness as U.S.-led forces closed in on Baghdad. The station did not say when the meeting took place.