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U.S. Troops Assault Baghdad Airport

U.S. troops cross the invisible "red line" where military strategists believe Iraq could deploy chemical weapons and servicemen battle to take control of Baghdad's airport.

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A U.S. marine on patrol in Numaniyah, southeast of Baghdad

American troops began to attack Baghdad's airport on Thursday, in a crucial first battle for control of the city. Officials at Central Command headquarters in Qatar had said that U.S. troops had reached an area within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of the southern edge of Baghdad.

"The Iraqi regime no longer controls about 45 percent of Iraq, and coalition forces are on the outskirts of Baghdad," Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a Pentagon briefing.

Meanwhile, Iraq deployed more Republican Guards south of Baghdad to block the U.S. advance and defend Saddam International Airport, 20 kilometers (12 miles) southwest of Baghdad. But U.S. military sources in the area told Reuters that, so far, armoured units of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division had met little resistance as they continued their northward thrust towards the city's outskirts and reported no direct engagement with the Iraqi troops.

Three big explosions shook the center of Baghdad on Thursday night. Planes were heard overhead, although air sirens did not go off possibly because, for the first time since the war began 15 days ago, the power went out in most of the city. Artillery fire was also heard on the outskirts of Baghdad. The U.S. military headquarters in Qatar said its troops were not targeting the city's electricity system.U.S. troops cross "red line"

Thursday's developments came after U.S. forces captured key bridges over the Euphrates and Tigris rivers on Wednesday in their rapid approach to Baghdad. U.S. Brigadier Gen. Vincent Brooks of U.S. Central Command said: "The dagger is clearly pointed at the heart of the Baghdad regime."

He also cautioned that a number of U.S. troops had crossed a notional "red line" into an area where the military believes Iraqi forces may launch chemical or biological attacks.

Coalition enters Najaf

U.S. troops advanced into the city of Najaf, after battling pro-Baghdad paramilitaries. A local Shi'ite Muslim leader issued an edict urging people not to interfere with the invading troops. Previously the cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, had distributed an edict calling for Iraqi to "stand together against any invasion," a Reuters correspondent reported.

U.S. aircraft shot down

A U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter was brought down by small arms fire late on Wednesday, leaving six dead and several more wounded -- according to the U.S. Central Command. Shortly after, an F/A-18 Hornet single-seat aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile before midnight Iraq time on Wednesday. The pilot, who has not been named, has not yet been found. On Thursday, the U.S military confirmed the occurrence and said it was investigating whether the fighter bomber had been downed by friendly fire. In a further incident between an F-15E Strike Eagle plane and ground forces on Thursday a U.S. army soldier was killed and others were injured or missing, U.S. military officials in Qatar said.

Arab broadcaster withdraws correspondents

The Arab television news channel al-Jazeera says it is suspending its editorial operations in Iraq and withdrawing its correspondents indefinitely. The broadcaster's decision came after the Iraqi Information Ministry withdrew accreditation for two al-Jazeera correspondents working in Baghdad, including Tai-sir Aluni, one of the station's top correspondents. The Iraqi government gave no reason for its decision. The United States and Britain have criticized al-Jazeera for its coverage of the war against Iraq, alleging it has been biased in favor of the Iraqi government.

American POW brought to Germany

In other recent developments, Jessica Lynch, the rescued U.S army soldier held captive for 10 days, arrived Thursday morning in Germany for treatment for broken bones at the American military hospital in Landstuhl.

Lynch, 19, was one of 15 soldiers listed as missing, captured or killed when a 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company convoy made a wrong turn and came under attack from Iraqi tanks and fighters. Five of the captives, but not Lynch, were shown on Iraqi television along with the bodies of up to eight men apparently killed in combat.

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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