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Iraq: Desert Dispatch -- 'Battle For Baghdad' Well Under Way

RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz is embedded with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team in the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division. Today he reports on continued fighting in and around Baghdad as the battle for Iraq's capital city continues.

Question: What kind of action have you witnessed over the past day?

Synovitz: Dawn on the northern outskirts of Baghdad opened with waves of fighter-plane sorties flying over our heads, going into Baghdad for bombing missions, as well as the sound of artillery rounds from the U.S. going into Iraqi positions and U.S. tanks firing. The U.S. tanks were engaging about three T-72 tanks on the northern side of the city, and fighting also with Iraqis who were embedded in mortar positions. The U.S. troops are clearing the northern sectors of Baghdad today on the west side of the Tigris River.

At the same time they have already cleared positions around the southern side of the city and the western side of the city. They are in complete control of the airport and the U.S. Marines are in holding positions on the east side of Baghdad. I myself was able in the last 24 hours to drive on the ring roads around Baghdad from the southeast side all the way around the western side and up to the northwestern side and up to the north. When we got to the northern side there was intense fighting. I saw more than a dozen T-72 Iraqi tanks destroyed, as well as dozens of civilian cars and dozens of prisoners being taken. It was a very bloody battle there.

Question: What can you tell us about the Iraqi civilians you've seen in Baghdad so far? What is their mood like?

Synovitz: I also saw for the first time Iraqi civilians from Baghdad waving and smiling in a very friendly and happy way while they were sitting right next to the bodies of some of these dead Republican Guard soldiers. They were gleeful, and it's the first time that I can report that it really seems that the civilians in Baghdad in this situation were happy to see the Americans and in a celebratory mood about the presence of the Americans here.

Question: Is today's action being considered the "Battle for Baghdad"?

Synovitz: When historians look back at the battle of Baghdad, it won't be considered as an event that happened in a single day. It will be considered an entire campaign. The campaign technically began on Wednesday night [2 April], when forces from the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division seized a bridge across the Euphrates to the southwest. Then forces from the 115th Task Force of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team seized an objective south of the city of Baghdad and forces began to assemble there.

What we're seeing now is a series of events, small advances taking different objectives around the city, surrounding the city [completely,] which is what's happened in the last day, [with] tank crews on a "thunder-run" raid through the city center in order to discover Iraqi positions there. So the entire campaign is a series of events rather than a single one-day event. So the answer to the question is yes, this is the battle for Baghdad, and no, it's not a one-day event. It is a series of organized and well-planned efforts to take the city slowly.