Paramilitary forces, dressed in black and carrying AK-47
assault rifles and grenades, headed toward the outskirts of
the Iraqi capital on Saturday or joined soldiers in full
combat gear digging in around the city.
But I and other correspondents traveling around Baghdad saw no
sign of U.S. troops or armor inside the city.
With U.S. military spokesmen saying American forces had
entered Baghdad, forces loyal to Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein moved into position across the city or headed south
toward the battle front.
Trailers and buses full of Saddam's Fedayeen, the black-clad
paramilitary forces under the command of Saddam's eldest son
Uday, drove south on one thoroughfare.
"Move out of the way," they shouted as they sped
away from a military compound, touting AK-47s and
rocket-propelled grenade launchers and clutching Chinese-made
Armored personnel carriers were also driving south.
Driving freely around the southern outskirts, the south east,
the south west and near the presidential palaces and the main
security buildings of the Iraqi capital, I saw Iraqi forces
preparing for battle and boarded-up shops.
The sound of heavy artillery fire could be heard from the
fringes of the city, but there was no sign of U.S. forces.
Soldiers in full combat gear and members of Saddam's Fedayeen
crouched on the corners of highways leading to the south and
Iraqi forces appeared to be repositioning themselves
CONFLICTING VERSION OF EVENTS
A U.S. spokesman said early on Saturday that American forces
had pushed into the heart of the battered Iraqi capital for a
first time in the 17-day-old war. The push, the spokesman
added, was "more than a patrol that goes in and comes
But Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said
U.S. forces had not entered the city and had been expelled
from the city's international airport to the west.
"The film they broadcast to you is a lie," he said
of television footage showing U.S. troops and armor on a
highway with signs indicating the City Center and Baghdad
"They're trying to deceive everyone. They're in the
outskirts of Abu Ghreib," he told the Arabic satellite
network al-Jazeera, adding that they were 20-25 miles from
Baghdad. "This is a ploy," he added.
The Fox News Channel in the United States showed a line of
tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles which it said were from
the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division and were rolling into Baghdad.
The column, moving in broad daylight and firing
intermittently, passed several burning and destroyed vehicles.
The Fox News Channel footage showed few buildings on either
side of the road, a large sand-colored mosque with twin
minarets and a line of larger-than-life statues but no footage
of any built-up area.
An Iraqi in civilian clothes and with his hands up emerged
from a grove beside the highway and lay down on the asphalt.
Fox had a correspondent with the column riding atop a Bradley.
The vehicles passed under several highway bridges. One road
sign pointed to Bayaa and City Center. Another shown later in
the sequence pointed to Baghdad Airport.
The Arabic satellite network al-Jazeera later carried footage
of jubilant Iraqis on a highway next to the burned-out
wreckage of what looked like U.S. armored fighting vehicles.
Roads signs there also pointed to the airport and City Center.
U.S. military spokesmen said rocket-propelled grenades had
damaged one U.S. tank. A second had to be abandoned in Baghdad
because of mechanical failure, they added.
FEWER CARS ON ROADS
The southern outskirts of Baghdad looked like a war front,
with scores of Iraqi soldiers and paramilitary forces heading
out to confront an approaching U.S. enemy.
Overnight raids left more government complexes in ruin.
Shops in normally busy districts, such as New Baghdad, were
almost all shut, and far fewer cars were on the roads. Long
queues formed at those petrol stations still open.
What cars there were sped faster than usual. Drivers, who
rarely give Baghdad traffic lights much respect, ignored them
Heavy artillery and rocket launchers were positioned in the
Dawra area, home to the main oil refinery feeding Baghdad and
an area where a U.S. spokesman said American tanks drove early
on Saturday on a reconnaissance mission.
Palm trees and farms provided cover. Iraqi artillery
occasionally fired to the south and southeast.
Inside the city, checkpoints were installed on the road to the
airport and the paramilitary directed traffic. Heavy military
gear could be seen moving on roads around the center.
Republican Guards were seen around one presidential compound
in the city. Soldiers spilled out of pick-up trucks and took
up positions near main highways. U.S. fighter jets flew
A convoy of police cars with sirens wailing drove around the
center of Baghdad. The officers inside fired AK-47s in the air
and raised pictures of Saddam and Iraqi flags to celebrate
what Iraqi officials said was the recapture of the airport.