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COMBINED DISPATCHES



Published: Tue, April 8, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



COMBINED DISPATCHES

U.S. forces set up a base in central Baghdad and a warplane dropped bunker-busting bombs aimed at President Saddam Hussein and his two sons.

Iraqi forces staged a counterattack in the capital shortly after dawn today, sending fighters to overrun U.S. soldiers holding a strategic intersection leading to a bridge over the Tigris River. U.S. troops strafed the Iraqis from planes overhead and with mortar and artillery fire. At least 50 Iraqi fighters were killed and two U.S. soldiers were wounded, one seriously, by rooftop snipers.

In a potentially significant loss for the Iraqis, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force moved to capture Rasheed Airport in the southeast corner of Baghdad, said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks of U.S. Central Command. On the way, the Marines fought and defeated heavily armed Iraqi forces in tanks and armored personnel carriers, before moving on to the military airfield.

Attack on leaders

In the midst of Monday's assault on Baghdad, a lone B-1B bomber carried out a massive strike on what the coalition described as a "leadership target" in the upscale al-Mansour neighborhood where senior Iraqi officials, possibly including Saddam and his two sons, were believed to be meeting. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said American intelligence learned of the high-level meeting Monday morning.

It was not clear who was killed; the strike left a smoking crater of dirt and concrete 60 feet deep and destroyed three nearby houses. Iraqi rescue workers pulled three bodies from the rubble -- an elderly man, a young woman and a little boy -- but said the toll could be as high as 14. There were no unusual security measures; a reporter was able to examine the site, talk with neighbors and watch the search without interference.

No pull-back plans

Brooks said that although the site is still in Iraqi hands, coalition forces would likely visit it soon. He added that it would take some time and perhaps detailed forensic work to establish who was killed.

U.S. troops in Baghdad have no plans to pull back, Army Col. David Perkins said today. They now control most of the west bank of the Tigris, which divides the city, and they plan to join up with U.S. forces at the international airport, farther west. The Marines are advancing from the east.

"We survived the first night, and that's usually the most difficult one," said Perkins, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade.

The soldiers hunkered down in the sprawling, blue-and-gold-domed New Presidential Palace, where Saddam once slept, and patrolled neighborhoods in the city's center. At least a dozen Iraqis were being held in a hastily erected holding pen on the grounds.

As airstrikes continued today, Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera reported its office was bombed, killing one staffer. While the network's cameras rolled, a second bomb fell in the same neighborhood on the Tigris, where a number of TV channels have offices.

Later, the Palestine Hotel, home base for many journalists, was struck by U.S. tank fire. Two television cameraman -- for Reuters news agency and Spanish network Telecinco -- were killed, and at least three other journalists were injured.

COPYRIGHT 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN, OR REDISTRIBUTED.




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