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Iraqis Put Up Stiff Fight As U.S. Forces Push Into Baghdad

From different directions, American soldiers and Marines attacked the Iraqi capital on Monday. The fighting is taxing the limits of some of Baghdad's hospitals.

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Taking over: U.S. Marines seize a training facility for the Republican Guard near Baghdad.

U.S. Marine Col. B.P. McCoy, a cigar-smoking commander, was in a take-no-prisoners mood on Monday as American forces pushed deep into the heart of Baghdad. "Once we get in amongst them, they are dead meat," McCoy said, between drags on his cigar. "Up until this point, they had a river between them and us. They don't have that any more. We are going to go hunting on the other side, find out where these guys are and kill them."

McCoy's Marines were one of two U.S. military forces pressing toward the center of the Iraqi capital on Monday. As the Marines moved in from the southeast, the Army sent more than 100 tanks and armored vehicles into Baghdad.

The Army units raided two of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces, including the main symbol of his 24-year grip on power in Iraq. Television viewers worldwide saw dramatic footage of U.S. troops moving on the Republican Palace compound in Baghdad, during what commanders described as a raid but not an all-out assault to take the capital.

By Monday afternoon, fighting was raging in the area of Baghdad's landmark al-Rashid hotel, which has been cordoned off by Iraqi fighters, according to correspondents for the AFP news agency. Iraqi snipers crouched behind bridges and artillery fire rang out from almost every direction.

"Iraqi forces are blocking streets all over town, and their artillery is in action," Reuters correspondent, Samia Nakhoul said. "The Iraqis are definitely fighting back.”

Lt. Col. Peter Bayer of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, told AFP that "we've been significantly challenged." Earlier, Bayer said U.S. troops "own" two Saddam palaces in the city center and a third near the airport southwest of the capital.

From the southeast, the Marines entered Baghdad undeterred by the two damaged bridges on the Diyala River, which runs east of the Iraqi capital. Reuters correspondents near the damaged bridges said they saw U.S. tanks and armored vehicles on the western bank of the Nahr Diyala (a tributary of the Tigris River) pounding positions of the regime-loyal Special Republican Guard.

The Marines said they used bridge-laying machines to create a new crossing alongside one of the destroyed bridges. They said they patched up a hole on the second bridge before driving over it. The Marines said the Iraqis blew large holes in the two bridges on Sunday.

But the fighting was accompanied by another apparent "friendly fire" attack. Two Marines died when an artillery shell punched into their armored vehicle. McCoy said he could not confirm the cause of their deaths but said an investigation had begun.

Despite the advance, a U.S. general cautioned against celebrating victory too soon. "It's very clear that we haven't finished our work, so we're a long way from being able to celebrate victory," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told a briefing at Central Command in Qatar. "We continue to say the outcome is not in doubt, but there's still work for us to do at this point."

Hospital overwhelmed by wounded citizens

Ein verwundeter irakischer Soldat wir in ein Bagdader Krankenhaus eingeliefert

A wounded Iraqi soldier is taken to the emergency room of a hospital in Baghdad on Friday.

Red Cross officials found awful conditions at the only Baghdad hospital they were able to reach through the fighting. Casualties continued to stream in, surgeons working without breaks and anaesthetics were running low.

Doctors at the Kindi hospital told the Reuters news agency it had taken in four dead and 176 injured in the last 24 hours.

"Surgeons have been working round the clock for the past two days and most are exhausted. Conditions are terrible," said Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, a spokesman for the International Red Cross. "You could hear very close range explosions. The windows are rattling from the thud of explosion."

Troops enter the center of Basra

To the south, about 700 British and U.S. troops, guarded by tanks and helicopters, walked unopposed to the heart of Iraq's second city, Basra, on Monday -- the first time in the 19-day-old war. The soldiers, who sent tanks to the heart of the city for a first time on Sunday after besieging the outskirts since an invasion began on March 20, were backed by four Cobra helicopters and several Challenger tanks.

The mostly British troops walked to a square in the old part of the city, by a mosque with a gold and blue dome and a big picture of Saddam. Some sat trying to chat with Iraqi civilians. Some residents along the streets smiled at the passing troops and said in english, "Very good, very good."

"We now control the majority of the city. There are pockets of resistance in the old area," British military spokesman Capt. Al Lockwood said at Central Command headquarters.

Possible site of weapons of mass destruction

U.S. soldiers have discovered a site in southern Iraq that could contain weapons of mass destruction, a military spokesman said Monday.

Other Developments

-- U.S. freelance photographer Molly Bingham said on Monday that she was treated well by Iraqi authorities who arrested her at her Baghdad hotel and held her in prison for more than a week. Bingham, along with two Newsday journalists, said she was taken by seven Iraqi troops from her hotel late at night. The three were blindfolded and led to a Baghdad prison where she was then questioned. "I've paid for worse hotel rooms in Africa," Bingham said of her cell on NBC's Today show. Bingham turned up safely in neighboring Jordan last week after being released. She worked as the official photographer for former Vice President Al Gore during his failed presidential bid in 2000.

-- Two U.S. soldiers and two journalists were killed and 15 people wounded on Monday in an Iraqi attack on a U.S. communications center on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, military sources said. Two of those wounded were in critical condition, a U.S. military official told Reuters. One of the journalists was reported to be German, the other Spanish.

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