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Coalition Forces Tighten Hold on Baghdad

Coalition tanks drove unhindered into the heart of Baghdad on the 21st day of the U.S.-led military campaign as crowds of Iraqis jubilantly celebrated the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s iron grip on Iraq.

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U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians toppled a statue of Saddam Hussein in a central square in Baghdad.

Joyous scenes marked the Iraqi capital’s streets on Wednesday as hordes of Iraqis danced and cheered to celebrate what is now being seen as the certain collapse of Saddam Hussein’s 24-year-old iron rule.

An American armored vehicle helped a cheering crowd dismantle a massive statue of Saddam Hussein in the central al-Fardus square on the eastern bank of the Tigris river. Dozens of screaming people leapt on the fallen 20-foot (six-meter) high metal statue, shouting "death to Saddam!".

Kuss für die USA Soldaten in Bagdad

An Iraqi man kisses an American soldier in downtown Bagdhad Wednesday April 9, 2003.

Ecstatic Iraqis greeted marines arriving in the Shia stronghold of Saddam City, showering flowers on them and waving to them as they chanted, "No more Saddam Hussein, we love you, we love you." Similar rejoicing crowds took to the streets in the Kurdish-held northern city of Arbil. Saddam led Iraq through three wars and decades of suffering after taking power in 1979.

Coalition forces face no resistance

There was still no word on the fate of the Iraqi dictator or his sons, targeted by U.S. planes that bombed a western residential area of the city on Monday. General Buford Blount, commander of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division told a Reuters correspondent, "We have defeated him (Saddam Hussein) militarily. We have taken away his ability to command control." Asked whether Saddam's government was still functioning in Iraq, Blount said: "We have been in all the government buildings and there is no government left to speak of."

Saddam’s troops offered little resistance on Wednesday as U.S. forces pushed through the five-million-strong city and drove unhindered into public squares. Coalition forces have been advancing from three directions, extending the central area they have held since Tuesday morning. There was no sign of Iraqi troops, police or officials in the streets of Baghdad on Wednesday.

An atmosphere of chaos and disorder prevailed in several areas as looters gutted official buildings, hauling off furniture, tires, chairs, airconditioners and whatever else they could lay their hands on. Television pictures showed Iraqis tearing up posters of Saddam Hussein and burning his effigies. The finance ministry was ablaze late in the day, though it was unclear how the fire had started.

In one part of the city, Marines looked on as two Iraqis, one in a red boxing helmet and gloves, the other in white, walked past pushing a shopping cart full of computer equipment. "It's like a K-Mart in there, they're stealing everything," said a Marine watching the pillage of stores and buildings.

U.S., British officials remain cautious

Despite the euphoric mood on several streets in the Iraqi capital, the White House said President George W. Bush was pleased with the military progress in Iraq, but remained cautious because he knew great danger could still lie ahead.

"What you’re seeing in parts of Baghdad is only that, one section of Baghdad. There are many dangerous areas of Baghdad for our armed forces that remain. There are many other cities in Iraq that are dangerous," spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney told the American Society of Newspaper Editors in New Orleans that "we still have a lot to do. In dealing with such an enemy, we must expect vicious tactics until the regime's final breath. The hardest combat could still be ahead of us."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld however was full of praise for the coalition forces. "Tomorrow will mark three weeks since Operation Iraqi Freedom began, and the progress of the men and women in uniform who make up the coalition forces has been nothing short of spectacular," he said.

Rumsfeld was also clear about Saddam Hussein's fate. "Saddam Hussein is now taking his rightful place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed brutal dictators, and the Iraqi people are well on their way to freedom," he said.

However Bush’s strongest war ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair displayed more caution. He said it was too early to declare military victory in Iraq. "This conflict is not over yet. There is still resistance, not broadly spread among the Iraqi people, but among those parts of Saddam’s regime that want to cling on to power," he said.

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.