U.S. forces rushing toward Baghdad have completed the large task of seizing the city's airport, but they still have a lot of dangerous detail work ahead of them.
Taking the aiport: A U.S. tank moves across the runways of Baghdad's aiport on Friday morning.
U.S. Col. John Peabody was satisfied with American troops latest achievement on Friday -- the capture of Baghdad's international airport.
"Taking the airport makes a dramatic political statement, but it's also strategic," said Peabody, commander of the Engineer Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division.
As a result, U.S. forces can use the facility to supply their troops and reduce the risk of using a vunerable road link that stretches all the way back to Kuwait.
But before they can start to fully use the facility, located about 12 miles (20 kilometers) southwest of the capital's center, U.S. forces still have some dangerous work to do. The airport will not be considered secure "until you've gone to every room of every building," said Maj. John Altman, an intelligence officer with the division. "There's a lot of buildings."
The forces began to take over the airport late Thursday, and they proceeded on Friday, the 16th day of the war, to secure the facility.
About 320 Iraqis killed in airport fight
The U.S. began its attack on the airport on Thursday evening by raining heavy artillery fire and bombs on the facility, attacks that left buildings in flames. Witnesses said dozens of people were killed and wounded. The fighting started on Friday about 7:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m. Central European Time), shortly after U.S. forces said they had seized about 80 percent of the sprawling complex.
The U.S. military said 320 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the fighting. They said dozens of Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery, troop carriers and trucks had been captured or destroyed. More than 1,000 U.S. troops were in and around the airport.
But the airport and the surrounding area remain dangerous for U.S. forces. Iraqi forces were shelling U.S. positions within the airport. On the outskirts of Baghdad, a sprawling city of 5 million residents, Iraqi tanks and armed pickup trucks attacked U.S. forces about 12 miles behind the airport frontline.
In less than half an hour, U.S. Bradley fighting vehicles destroyed five Iraqi tanks and killed about 40 Iraqis, according to estimates by U.S. officers.
In Baghdad's suburbs, Iraqi snipers and small groups firing mortars and rocket-propelled grenades from the cover of buildings and date palm groves continue to pose a threat to U.S. troops streaming over the Euphrates River.
U.S. commanders have cautioned that they may well not storm toward the city center even if they secure positions around the outskirts. It is unclear what defenses President Saddam Hussein may have positioned inside Baghdad and fighting there, which would limit the U.S. technological advantage, could be bloody.
Saddam urges "foresight"
Residents in the southern outskirts of Baghdad, a city that awoke to a power cut and no water, came under more intense bombardment by coalition warplanes Friday morning. For the first time since the conflict began on March 20, the power went off late on Thursday, plunging Baghdad into darkness and silencing the loudspeakers that call Muslims to prayers. There was no sound except the barking of dogs and warplanes overhead, according to reports. U.S. officials denied they targeted power supplies.
Otherwise, life in central Baghdad, which came under heavy bombing overnight, had a semblance of normality, with public transport buses and cars on the streets.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
Iraqi state television detailed on Friday Saddam's tips to senior officials on how to resist invading forces. "Victory is certain and it is in our hands, but what is needed is foresight and presence on the battlefield. I remind everybody that today is a day for testing principles," it quoted him as saying at a meeting, the date of which was not given.
"To achieve this goal, we must not let the enemy decide and hit, but we must find ways to exhaust him and tear through his ranks and not give him the chance to catch his breath."
Australian commander praises air war
Australia's air force chief on Friday attributed the advance of coalition forces to the destruction of Iraq's Republican Guard divisions in one of the most successful air campaigns ever.
"I think we've seen spectacular developments overnight and the way the coalition forces have got past the Medina divisions and the Baghdad divisions and are now on the doorstep of Baghdad is truly impressive," RAAF Air Marshal Angus Houston told Australian radio.
"A major reason for that is the fact that the two divisions were heavily engaged by air forces over the last week, and they obviously attributed to an extent where they've lost a lot of their fighting capability and perhaps the will to fight."
But Houston warned there were still substantial Iraqi forces on the north and east of Baghdad that had not been targeted by air strikes. "And they still probably have a reasonable fighting capacity," he said.
Australia has provided a contingent of 2,000 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel to the U.S.-led coalition.
Compiled by DW-WORLD staff with information from wire services.
Note: Information on troop movements, victims and damage estimates are based on information from parties involved in the war and cannot be independently verified.