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U.S. Forces Extend Push Into Baghdad

Opposition appears to be breaking up in the Iraqi capital as Marines and soldiers move deeper into the city. Postwar administration begins to work on the post-Saddam era.

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Out of action: An Iraqi tank was destroyed in a Baghdad suburb this week.

There was a different sound being heard on Wednesday morning in Baghdad, the battle-scarred capital of Iraq. It was the sound of silence and singing birds.

"We can't hear anything. Not even cars," Reuters correspondent Khaled Oweis said. "Near to us we can hear occasional machine-gun fire, but it's eerily quiet. You can actually hear the birds singing. In peacetime, you never heard them singing."

But the war was far from over on the 21st day of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In a further sign that the government of Saddam Hussein may be crumbling, residents of Baghdad began mass looting on Wednesday -- walking away with furniture, refrigerators, tires, chairs and just about anything else they could carry or pack into the back of a pickup truck.

U.S. forces prepared to expand their operations in the capital, officials continued to plan for the era after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and journalists mourned three colleagues killed in Tuesday's combat.

Marines, soldiers press onward in Baghdad

After one of the quietest nights since the war began on March 20, thousands of Marines moved block by block through the urban sprawl of Saddam City squeezing out resistance. Across the capital, parts of the 1st Brigade of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division prepared to thrust into the center of the city from their base at the international airport in the southwest. The 3rd Brigade in the northwest was sweeping down to the west of the Tigris River, which divides the Iraqi capital, and armored units of the 2nd Brigade, which hold a presidential palace compound in the heart of Baghdad, were slowly expanding their operations.

"I can see American troops driving around in Humvees in the compound. They are that confident," Oweis said from from the Palestine Hotel, which overlooks Saddam's presidential site across the Tigris and which came under American fire on Tuesday.

Iraqi Information Ministry officials who have shadowed foreign reporters were nowhere to be seen at the hotel on Wednesday. Streets around the Palestine Hotel, which is situated on the eastern bank of the Tigris, were empty.

A unit of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force encountered little opposition and received a largely warm reception as it swept the poor residential district of Saddam City. The district is home to around 2 million Iraqis, mainly from the Shiite Muslim majority, who have traditionally been oppressed by the Sunni ruling elite.

But all was not quiet. Fighting flared around the presidential palace where two U.S. tanks still held a key bridge over the Tigris River. The Abrams tanks opened fire, artillery pounded out and automatic weapons crackled as U.S. forces moved to quell resistance from an Iraqi position blocking the eastern exit of the Al-Jumhuriya bridge.

New administration sets up in Iraq

A U.S.-led civil administration started work in Iraq on Tuesday when a score of officials arrived in the southern port of Umm Qasr to assess humanitarian needs, a spokesman said. The opposition Iraqi National Congress said leaders from across southern Iraq flocked to the city of Nasiriya to greet INC leader Ahmad Chalabi.

But a CIA report said he and other returning exiles would find little support among Iraqis. The classified CIA report appeared to be part of the long and bitter struggle within the Bush administration over whether Chalabi and his colleagues can be effective leaders.

Farther south, residents of Basra complained of a power vacuum after the city came under the control of British troops this week. Armed men are roaming the streets, looting and pillaging.

"We are caught between two enemies, Saddam and the British," said student Osama Ijam. "Is this what they call a liberation? We want our own government. We want our own security and our own law."

Reuters correspondent Peter Graff, touring the city with British troops on Wednesday morning, said all appeared quiet. Children waved at the marines. Most adults ignored them. British officials said a local sheikh would take over leadership in Basra province.

U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged on Tuesday that the United Nations would play a "vital role" in Iraq after the fighting ended. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has pressed for such a role, and he said on Tuesday in response to their pledge: "If that is the common position or can be, I would be very happy about it." Schröder plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Jacques Chirac on Saturday in St. Petersburg to discuss the future of Iraq.

U.N. General-Secretary Kofi Annan had planned to meet with European leaders this week. But late Tuesday, he canceled the trip and said he instead would attend next week's European Union summit in Athens.

Pentagon reponds to journalists' deaths

Verletzter Journalist in Bagdad

Medics tend to a journalist wounded after a U.S. tank fired at a hotel filled with journalists in Baghdad on Tuesday.

The Defense Department's chief spokeswoman said on Tuesday that she regretted the deaths of journalists in Baghdad but that she had repeatedly warned members of the news media that "war is a dangerous, dangerous business."

Victoria Clarke responded to questions about a Tuesday incident at the Palestine Hotel, which was crowded with international reporters and was fired on by a U.S. tank in response to what the military said was small arms fire. A Reuters journalist and a Spanish journalist died in the cannon blast.

"We are at war. There is fighting going on in Baghdad. Our forces came under fire. They exercised their inherent right to self-defense," Clarke told a news briefing. "We go out of our way to avoid civilians. We go out of our way to help and protect journalists."

At the same time, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists demanded in a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the Pentagon investigate the firing on the hotel and U.S. air strikes that hit the Baghdad office of Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite network. That attack killed the 34-year-old journalist Tareq Ayub and damaged the nearby office of Abu Dhabi TV.

Amnesty International also called for an independent investigation.

Other developments

  • U.S. and Kurdish forces faced no resistance as they seized a key mountain that the Iraqis were using to defend the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, removing the last of the city's defenses, a senior Kurdish official said on Wednesday. Hoshiyar Zebari said U.S. forces and local Kurdish fighters took the Maqloub mountain, nine miles (15 kilometers) northeast of Mosul, shortly after midnight on Tuesday.
  • British intelligence sources said Saddam probably survived an attack on Tuesday in which U.S. bombers dropped four 2,000-pound bombs on a site in Baghdad where he was believed to be. "We think we just missed him", one told the British newspaper Daily Telegraph. "He was probably not in the building when it bombed."

    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.

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