Baghdad in disarray

The battle for Iraq's capital is quickly turning into a rout.

While US military officials stress the war in Iraq is far from over, gains Wednesday in Baghdad suggest Saddam Hussein and his supporters are unable to control the civilian population or mount coordinated large-scale resistance in large

"The capital city is now one of those areas that has been added to the list of where the regime does not have control," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said this morning at the daily Central Command briefing in Qatar.

Shiite residents of the Saddam City neighborhood, long shunted aside by the Hussein regime, danced in the streets and looted property. In scenes reminiscent of Eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall fell, Baghdad residents used ropes and a sledgehammer in an attempt to pull down a statue of Hussein in Firdos Square.

Much of the latest progress by US forces occurred in the eastern half of the Baghdad. US Marines reached the eastern banks of the Tigris River, taking positions around the Palestine Hotel and seizing the Iraqi secret police headquarters.

"The major threat was not running over the 400 looters who were stripping the place," said US Marine Maj. Joseph Clearfield after helping secure the Directorate of General Security building Wednesday morning.

Marines in full battle gear dismounted from a column of tanks and armored vehicles into the streets around Tahriya Square in eastern Baghdad. The convoy was greeted by hundreds of bystanders waving white flags, while some youths whistled and clapped.

But elsewhere in east Baghdad, marines were still engaging in fierce firefights with Iraqi forces.

On the west side of the city where resistance remains more intense, US Army troops reportedly seized control of the Iraqi television and radio facilities. In a further sign that Hussein's regime is melting away, the Information Minister for the first time did not broadcast a daily briefing Wednesday.

The relatively quick collapse of resistance in Baghdad is reminiscent of the rapid demise of Iraqi defenses along the Kuwait border during Operation Desert Storm.

In both cases, ground forces were able to roll over sporadic resistance after waves of air bombardments had weakened what were once considered formidable fortifications.

One hundred miles north of Baghdad, the Central Command reported the US has noted a buildup of Iraqi forces around Hussein's birthplace of Tikrit. That raises speculation the city may be the site of the regime's last stand.

"We're certainly focused on Tikrit to prevent the regime from being able to use it as a place to command and control, to restore command and control or to hide," Brooks said.

A mix of Republican Guards and militia fighters are also holding out in Mosul and Kirkuk. Nine miles from Mosul, US troops and their Kurdish allies seized Maqloub mountain, the last obstacle between them and the city.

Wire reports were used in preparing this report.

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