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Iraq: U.S. Forces Expand Presence In Baghdad

Prague, 8 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Pentagon says coalition forces are encircling Baghdad and there is a substantial presence of American troops in the Iraqi capital. Major General Stanley McChrystal, a vice director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, today said during a news briefing that coalition forces are, as he put it, "rooting out resistance."

"Coalition forces now have a substantial presence in and around Baghdad and continue to work to isolate the city. We are conducting raids from a couple of directions into Baghdad proper and rooting out resistance wherever we find it."

McChrystal said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard is no longer an effective fighting force. But he said the regime still controls guard elements and what he called "death squads."

The U.S. military said that some 50 Iraqi fighters were killed in Baghdad today as coalition warplanes, tanks, and artillery pounded the Iraqi capital.

U.S. strikes killed three television journalists in two separate incidents in Baghdad today -- two of them in a tank attack on the Palestine Hotel in the center of the capital.

New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today demanded an inquiry into the journalists' deaths. In an open letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the CPJ called for an "immediate and thorough investigation into the incidents."

In central Iraq, coalition forces battled Republican Guards near Hilla, some 100 kilometers south of Baghdad, while in the north, warplanes bombed Iraqi positions in and around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

In the south, British military said they have appointed an unnamed local tribal chief to provide civilian leadership in Basra.