U.S. forces conduct "probing" missions into central Baghdad, as Iraqi minister says Baghdad, airport remain in Iraqi control. U.S. troop death toll rises to 75 with identification of 9 soldiers reported missing.
The road to Baghdad is covered by U.S. Marines.
The fierce fighting around Baghdad and the city's international airport has been supplemented by a war of words between Iraqi and U.S. military officials on the progress made by coalition forces.
While American military officers and reporters "embedded" with U.S. forces showed burned-out Iraqi tanks and said they had troops in the "heart" of Baghdad, Iraq's information minister said both the airport and the city remained in control of Iraqi troops. War of words clouds truth
"You can go an visit those places. Nothing there, nothing there at all," said Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf. "There are Iraqi checkpoints. Everything is okay."
A statue of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein stands in the middle of an empty square in Baghdad Tuesday, March 25 2003, as a fierce sandstorm sweeps through the area. Visibility is severely reduced not only by the sandstorm but also by the pollution caused by oil set ablaze by Iraqis as a defense against US and British warplanes.
Al-Sahaf's statements to reporters Saturday morning were seemingly supplemented by a Reuters reporter who made a tour of the southern outskirts of Baghdad and the presidential palaces and found "no American troops."
Though acknowledging that there was still sporadic fighting at the former Saddam International Airport, U.S. military officials said they had secured the vital strategic location south of Baghdad. Al-Sahad, in response, said "hundreds" of American soldiers had been killed at the airport, which U.S. forces have re-named Baghdad International Airport.
The "airport has been changed into a graveyard for the invaders," the information minister said.
Four soldiers had been injured in fighting, one of them seriously, U.S. military sources told Reuters. A military spokesman called Iraq's claims "quite frankly groundless."
In addition, said Capt. Frank Thorp, American forces were moving a significant number of troops into the "heart of Baghdad." At a press briefing later in the day, military spokesman Renuart said forces had moved north into Baghdad near a bend in the the Tigris river and west to the airport (see DW-WORLD's Atlas of the Iraqi conflict on a side bar of the home page). Renaurt said U.S. soldiers and tanks would move further at "times and places of our choosing," and have encountered little resistance so far.
A U.S: Marine Commander told a reporter his forces would use "a knock-out punch" in taking the city. "We're not going to tip-toe into the city," he told Reuters. Baghdad humanitarian situation worsens
The situation inside the capital has gotten more dangerous, report correspondents. Iraqis are fleeing Baghdad via the northern road as the International Red Cross reported increasing difficulties in caring for war victims.
An Iraqi man drinks water as he rests next to a road on the outskirts of Iraqi's southern city of Basra, Friday, April 4, 2003. British forces supplied the suburbs of Basra with drinking water Friday after they moved closer to the city center. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
The international organization Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) temporarily suspended operations in Baghdad after two of its six-member staff were reported missing this week.
Aid has begun flowing into northern Iraq and the southern port of Umm Qasr, which was visited by U.N. aid officials on Saturday. The UN World Food Program has begun shipping in aid through Iraq's northern border with Turkey. A U.S. army civil affairs representative told reporters that "significant progress" was being made in getting potable water to thousands of Umm Qasr residents. Water was also being shipped north to the still-unsecured city of Basra.
"Right now the security situation, where fighting is going on, is extremely difficult," said Anotia Paradela, spokesperson for the International Red Cross in Kuwait to DW-RADIO.
British soldiers continue to battle sporadic Iraqi resistance in the southern city, Iraq's second largest. An Arab newspaper reported Saturday that senior Baath Party officials in Basra wanted to surrender to British forces, but were wary of making any move until Hussein was out of power.
Germany, France, Russia press for UN role
When that day comes, the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Russia said Friday afternoon that the United Nations must play a central role. Speaking a day after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested the United States would have "the leading role" in the immediate aftermath of the war, the three ministers stood-by what has emerged as relatively unified European opinion on post-war Iraq.
"The United Nations must play a central role in the settlement of the Iraqi crisis. The United Nations must exercise this role from now on," said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, flanked by Russian and German colleagues Igor Ivanov and Joschka Fischer.
De Villepin said the British government are in agreement with Russia, France and Germany on postwar Iraq.
More details on rescue of U.S. soldier
U.S. Military spokesman Major General Victor Renuart provided details on the rescue last week of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, now being operated on for broken bones at the U.S. Military's Landstuhl Medical Facility in southern Germany. Renuart said U.S. Navy seals, acting on a tip, stormed the hospital where Lynch, 19, was being held during the night last week.
Lynch was captured, along with 15 soldiers of her supply convoy, in an ambush by Iraqi forces on March 23. U.S. officials confirmed Saturday that eight of those 15 reported missing by U.S. forces had indeed been killed.
Their remains were found by the same special forces soldiers that rescued Lynch, and have been identified. In addition to the eight dead from the 597th Maintenance Company, special forces found the remains of one soldier from the Forward Support Group 3rd Infantry Division. With the news, the toll for U.S. forces rose to 75 dead on the 17th day of the Iraq war.
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.