U.S. forces seized the Baghdad airport today in an all-night tank and infantry assault, securing a potentially vital base for taking the battle into its expected next phase -- urban warfare in the streets of Baghdad.
Saddam International Airport was promptly renamed Baghdad International Airport by the U.S. military.
"It is a gateway to the future of Iraq," said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, U.S. Central Command spokesman.
In capturing the airport, U.S. tanks punched through a perimeter wall and rumbled past a towering portrait of Saddam Hussein. Soldiers conducted a building-by-building sweep for Iraqi defenders. And the airport entrance closest to Baghdad was sealed off.
To the southeast of the capital, meanwhile, the Marines reported that about 2,500 Republican Guards surrendered between Kut and Baghdad. And Marines pulled on chemical suits as they prepared for what could be the final assault on Saddam's seat of power.
The attack on the airport a mere 10 miles southwest of central Baghdad began at dusk Thursday with units of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division moving in to seize the main, 13,000-foot runway. Gunshots were heard from inside the complex of military and civilian buildings. It was unclear how many Iraqi troops remained in the airport.
With Iraqis cleared out, the 101st Airborne Division started to move north, with plans to base its helicopters at the newly seized airport in order to conduct raids around Baghdad. The 101st is highly trained in urban warfare.