Battles flare in Baghdad outskirts

One US marine died and 20 were wounded in fighting Thursday in a northern neighborhood.

Iraq's capital city is now a patchwork of looting and cheering Iraqis, as well as continued fierce fighting.

Heavy explosions and small arms fire echoed across the city late into Thursday afternoon as troops from the 1st Marine Division battled Iraqis and non-Iraqi paramilitaries in pitched battles for control of major thoroughfares.

Though Army and Marine units have secured the center of Baghdad, the continued fighting in various neighborhoods of the city suggests that hundreds, if not thousands, of the regime's supporters have gone to ground in disparate enclaves and are attempting to resist US occupation here.

One US marine was killed and 20 wounded in a northern neighborhood of the city in a battle around the Iman al Adham Mosque, where senior Iraqi officials were reportedly holed up.

"We had information that a group of the regime leadership was attempting to organize ... a meeting," said Capt. Frank Thorp, a spokesman at the US Central Command in Qatar.

The US is battling not just Iraqis but Arab volunteer fighters from around the Middle East whose motivation may have less to do with supporting Saddam Hussein than Muslim or Arab brotherhood (see story). There were reports of Arab fighters manning checkpoints and patrolling the streets in the north and western neighborhoods of the city.

With full control of the air, and a growing US presence, American fighters have advantage over their foes and are launching fresh attacks and continue to secure neighborhoods. In Qatar, a senior US general said that US forces had completed a cordon around Baghdad to block the arrival of Iraqi reinforcements and to prevent any escape attempt by senior Iraqi officials.

American marines arriving in Baghdad from their southern bases, report being fired upon. Iraqi snipers have sought tall buildings to fire down on approaching US convoys, though with little success, since their positions are soon discovered and eliminated.

In Saddam City, American demolition teams were busy Thursday destroying abandoned tanks and heavy armor that escaped the fighting. The banks of both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are now littered with dead Iraqi soldiers.

In the predominantly Shiite suburbs of Baghdad, Saddam Hussein's face is conspicuously absent in contrast to other Sunni enclaves where the elusive dictator's visage still beams defiantly from the sides of the road.

This reporter moved through the southern part of Baghdad with a US military munitions convoy early Thursday, and witnessed scenes of Iraqis celebrating and mass looting.

The US Marines expressed elation and wonderment at what they saw unfold in front of them. "At least we got it right in this war," said Staff Sgt. Bill Pulliam, with a reserve unit from Johnstown, Pa. Dozens of members of his unit died in the first Gulf War when a Scud missile hit their living quarters in Saudi Arabia. "The American public won't stand for high casualties anymore, and our military is smarter than ever."

Another young marine, Sgt. Rob Parsons, wielded a .50 caliber machine gun as his vehicle approached a Tigris River crossing. "I don't like the looks of this place," Sergeant Parsons, a Maine resident, muttered as we approached a large crowd of men who attempted to saddle up to our Humvee.

A staff sergeant shooed them away out of fears that a suicide bomber could be lurking among them.

But soon, Sergeant Parsons was feeling relaxed, even satisfied at a job well done. It was his first trip into Baghdad and he was startled by the scenes of bedlam and cheering children.

"This isn't so bad after all," he said, grabbing a cheese snack out of his backpack. "Not at all what I expected."

It was not clear, however, when or if Marine commanders would order their elite forces to intervene to stop the mass destruction being carried out by raiders inside embassies, factories, and the homes of foreign regime members.

Few Iraqis celebrated wildly Thursday; many more of them preferred to join in the massive looting. Men in long gowns and turbans hauled off oil barrels, sinks, generators, and gold-plated bathroom fixtures. Some locals prevented from crossing the Tigris River on foot opted to dive into the chilly waters and swim across to join in the mayhem east of the river.

In the Baghdad home of Ali Hassan Al Majid, or "Chemical Ali," the deceased cousin of Saddam Hussein who is believed to have been the mastermind of chemical attacks against Iraqi Kurds, a young woman, Enas, screamed for joy as her brother, Arkan, carted off gold-plated panels from above a fireplace in the living room.

Mr. Al Majid was reportedly killed in the southern city of Basra over the weekend. "I have no house but these murderers were living like kings!" she said as she led a reporter on a tour of the home. "Now we will take what is ours."

By midafternoon, impoverished Iraqis had moved most of Mr. Al Majid's furniture and bathroom trimmings out into waiting vehicles.

Iraqi businessman Mustafa Nakishly says that he worries about who will control the country in the days ahead.

"I'm frightened of the new government coming. We just got rid of the Baath Party, and they were criminals. I don't want any Iraqi government until everything settles down. Suddenly, when you are free, it is like children being locked in a room who run around and go crazy."

Staff writer Andy Nelson in Baghdad contributed to this report, and material from the wire services was also used.

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