US troops suffer heavy losses in Baghdad fighting

Dakshin Murthy


Fighting raged in Iraq’s capital Baghdad on Sunday with United States-led forces meeting fierce resistance in their efforts to capture the city.


Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said troops killed 50 US soldiers and destroyed or damaged 16 US tanks close to Baghdad airport. Troops from the Republican Guard are still tightening the noose around US troops in the area surrounding the airport, he said.


Journalists in the area reported seeing a destroyed US Abrams tank on a main highway south out of Baghdad. Iraqi officers said five US soldiers had been killed in a battle at the scene. Dozens of Iraqi civilians crowded around the journalists taken to the scene, shouting "Down, down Bush" and "Long live Saddam Hussein".



Iraqi soldiers stand on top of a destroyed US  tank on the outskirts of Baghdad on Sunday 

Iraqis with Kalashnikov rifles danced triumphantly over the hulk of the charred tank in the Sayadia area, a southern entrance to the capital. The journalists were taken to see the destroyed tank on the side of the highway from Baghdad to Karbala, as an Iraqi tank prepared to tow it away and stop it from obstructing traffic.


"We destroyed it with an anti-tank rocket along with the column of trucks and vehicles that was following it," Ahmed Khoder, a member of the special Republican Guard, told reporters. Khoder said the fighting took place Saturday between 6:00 and 8:00 am (0200 and 0400 GMT).


"One hour later President Saddam Hussein came to congratulate us and asked us to fight until the end," he said. Khoder, wearing civilian attire but armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and with ammunition strapped across his chest, said there were four men and one woman inside the tank. "They're all dead," Khoder said.


The Iraqi Information Minister said Baghdad was still firmly under Iraqi control, but US officials countered it claiming they could move into the capital at will.


A barrage of rockets was heard on Sunday around Baghdad, shortly after heavy artillery echoed from the city's outskirts. The explosions, accompanied by the roar of warplanes over the city centre, echoed from the west and southwest, where the US-led forces reinforced the international airport.


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Baghdad hospitals were struggling to cope with the wounded and the situation in the city was becoming desperate.


"The situation is extremely problematic now in terms of clean water supply and sewage evacuation. Everybody now is operating on back-up generators as there is hardly any power any more," an ICRC  spokeswoman said in Geneva.


With temperatures exceeding 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit), thousands of families set out on foot and in overloaded cars to find safety in remote provinces away from the capital.


According to agencies, US  troops are fighting to take control of highways leading northwest and west out of Baghdad as they tried to encircle the Iraqi capital. Colonel John Peabody, commander of the Engineer Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division said there were now about 7,000 troops at the airport -- roughly a fourfold increase on initial levels.



Earlier, a stream of US tanks and armoured vehicles moved across the Euphrates river to bolster positions around Baghdad.


US Central Command meanwhile claimed that 2,000 Iraqi troops had been killed in the offensive against Baghdad. It said his figure could include soldiers of the elite Republican Guard forces. -- Al Jazeera and Agencies  


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