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Iraq: Desert Dispatch -- U.S. Troops Secure Baghdad Airport, But Skirmishes Continue

RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz is embedded with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team in the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division. He filed this report from the Baghdad airport, where U.S. forces have gained control after several days of fighting.

Baghdad International Airport, 7 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Our correspondent reports while standing on the runway at what was last week called Saddam International Airport but has been renamed Baghdad International Airport by U.S. military forces.

There are dozens of American tanks, Bradleys and other vehicles on the airstrip, and I can confirm at this moment -- firsthand, with my own eyes -- that this airstrip is in the control of the United States forces, not the Iraqi forces, as the Iraqi Information Ministry continues to insist.

In order to get here, I drove as part of a convoy that included four 5,000-gallon fuel tankers. We traveled in a circle half of the way around Baghdad on the ring roads.

That trip was uneventful -- with relatively little resistance in the areas around the ring roads -- until we got to the southwest corner of Baghdad International Airport.

At that time, our convoy was fired on by an Iraqi with an AK-47. He managed to fire about 40 bullets at us, and then three mortar shells were launched from another Iraqi soldier in a nearby position. The American troops then counterfired and eliminated those Iraqi positions. However, the incident does show there are Iraqi troops slipping through some of the American defenses in order to make attacks on the logistical elements.

The reason that U.S. forces needed to take a convoy to the airport in order to pick up more fuel is because a battalion of armored tanks last night lost one of its fuel tankers and a heavy truck carrying ammunition.

Military intelligence officers with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team report that the incident occurred when an Iraqi soldier waving a white flag stood in the middle of the road in front of the convoy. When the convoy stopped, another Iraqi with a machine gun opened fire on the ammunition truck, causing it to explode. Secondary explosions then ignited the fuel tanker. One American soldier was killed in the attack.

Today, an Iraqi suicide bomber rammed a U.S. Abrams tank with a vehicle heavily packed with explosives, disabling the tank and wounding one soldier who was evacuated by helicopter.

Following yesterday's attack on the ammunition truck and fuel tanker, today's convoy have been tasked with picking up more supplies. Those supplies are arriving at the airport from overland.

There's no sign of any fixed-wing aircraft landing at the airport yet. However, there are Black Hawk helicopters, medical helicopters and other aircraft that are using the strip as a base of landing.