Fight for Baghdad intensifies
US forces continued to advance on Baghdad Tuesday in fierce fighting that shows the perils facing soldiers, civilians, and the journalists covering the war.
With US forces occupying Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's main palace grounds for a second day, other troops advanced into the city from all sides. In the eastern part of the city, the First Marine Expeditionary Force secured the Rashid Airport. Coalition forces have now secured airports on both sides of the city. Marines attacked Iraqi armor and artillery along the way to the airport and engaged in a firefight at an industrialized warehouse complex where Iraqi forces were hiding.
Meanwhile, Army units continued to attack the city from the north and south, meeting stiff resistance as they crossed over a bridge on the Tigris River for the first time.
A cameraman for the Reuters news service and a cameraman with Spain's Telecino TV station were killed and several other journalists wounded when US forces fired on the Palestine Hotel. The Central Command said US troops were only responding to sniper fire from inside the building. In a separate incident, a reporter for the Arab Al Jazeera news network was killed when bombs hit the building housing the network's Baghdad office.
Central Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said US forces are trying to minimize civilian casualties but Iraqi forces are making that task more difficult by firing from non-military facilities. "The risk increases for the civilian population as we conduct these operations," Brooks said. The Central Command said Iraqi troops are operating out of hospitals, mosques, office buildings, and hotels.
In the most high-profile air attack of the day, buildings in the residential Mansour section of the city where Hussein and his two sons were reported to be meeting was targeted by four powerful 2,000 pound bunker-buster bombs.
The attack was launched by a B-1 bomber circling over the city, waiting for such a "target of opportunity" to emerge. No details were available Tuesday morning about the nine people reportedly killed in the attack.
The Iraqi Ministry of Planning building in Baghdad was also the scene of fighting as Army troops peppered the building's higher floors with heavy machine gun rounds and tank shells.
The presence of troops on the ground didn't stop an aggressive bombing campaign by American warplanes, during which, at some points, a bomb was dropped every five to 10 seconds. Ground troops directed swarms of American aircraft against targets as small as tanks hidden beneath trees. Such close air support missions have all but eliminated the Republican Guard, which the Pentagon says has only a few dozen of its hundreds of armored vehicles left unscathed by bombing.
One US A-10 warplane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over the southwest part of the city but the pilot was rescued.
(Information from wire services was used in this report.)