The battle for Saddam International Airport

Lawrence Smallman: 04/06/03

US and Iraqi forces continue to battle for control of Saddam International Airport. Both sides claim it in its entirety, but both claims appear dubious. No one can use it, which suggests that there is still a lot of fighting to come and that control is split.


"Relying upon God, our brave people were able to expel the invaders from Saddam International Airport and they are now surrounded by our troops in a small place in Abu Ghraib," an Information Ministry official said yesterday. Abu Ghraib is a district near to the airport.

"Our ground missiles and artillery hit at the enemy concentrations and the enemy suffered destruction of weapons and several fatalities and wounded soldiers. The battle will continue until they are expelled completely," he said.

Luke Baker, of Reuters, reporting from south of the Iraqi capital, quoted US military sources as saying their forces remained in control of the airport. But they said they had come under heavy artillery fire from north of the airport.

A US military spokesman, speaking to AFP from Baghdad airport Saturday, scorned claims that it was still under Iraqi control, saying the only Iraqi troops he had seen in the facility were "dead or captured".

Major General Victor Renuart told reporters in Qatar that the airport is in remarkably good condition considering the action to capture it. Embedded journalists on the ground say that at least part of the airport complex is under US control. 

The United States also claimed today to have positioned 7,000 troops at Saddam International Airport and is moving quickly to establish a small military base there, a military official told Reuters.

Colonel John Peabody, commander of the Engineer Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, said US forces were massed at the airport, 20 kilometres southwest of the centre of the Iraqi capital and that a combat engineering unit would go there to clear debris, carry out repairs and prepare the runway.

However, there is as yet no conclusive proof that the US has taken the airport completely. Last night, the Iraqi Information Ministry claimed to have forced US troops out of the airport complex.

Misinformation is commonplace at this time. Iraqi non-regular and regular forces are still holding positions in the cities of Samawah and Nasiriya where the US claims total control. Until C-130s and supplies start to be flown in it is safe to conclude that the airport is still very much contested territory.


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