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Sun, July 21

Coalition's confidence grows as troops take more positions in Baghdad

EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch this site for periodic updates on "Destination Baghdad" – the war in Iraq.

With U.S. forces in central Baghdad and coalition confidence growing, President Bush said Tuesday it was possible that bunker-busting bombs aimed at Saddam Hussein and his two sons could have killed the Iraqi president. Marines moved into a key military airfield in the capital city's southeast corner.

Bush, at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said "I don't know" whether Saddam survived an attack on a building in Baghdad. "The only thing I know," Bush continued, "is that he's losing power."

Iraqi forces staged a counterattack in the capital shortly after dawn Tuesday, sending buses and trucks filled with fighters across the Tigris River to take on U.S. troops guarding a key intersection. U.S. troops strafed the Iraqis from planes overhead and with mortar and artillery fire. At least 50 Iraqi fighters were killed and two U.S. soldiers were wounded, one seriously, by rooftop snipers.

In a potentially significant loss for the Iraqis, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force moved to capture Rasheed Airport in the southeast corner of Baghdad, said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks of U.S. Central Command. On the way, the Marines fought and defeated heavily armed Iraqi forces in tanks and armored personnel carriers, before moving on to the military airfield.

Taking the airport would help secure the Iraqi capital, and prevent the escape of high-ranking Iraqi officials, Brooks said.

In the midst of Monday's assault on Baghdad, a lone B-1B bomber carried out a massive strike on what the coalition described as a "leadership target" in the upscale al-Mansour neighborhood where senior Iraqi officials, possibly including Saddam and his two sons, were believed to be meeting. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said American intelligence learned of the high-level meeting Monday morning.

It was not clear who was killed; the strike left a smoking crater of dirt and concrete 60 feet deep and destroyed three nearby houses. Iraqi rescue workers pulled three bodies from the rubble — an elderly man, a young woman and a little boy — but said the toll could be as high as 14. There were no unusual security measures; a reporter was able to examine the site, talk with neighbors and watch the search without interference.

Mohammed Al-Douri, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, said Tuesday the Iraqi government was still in control of the country. He also said that he believes Saddam Hussein was alive — although he acknowledged having no first-hand information from Baghdad.

Brooks said that although the site is still in Iraqi hands, coalition forces would likely visit it soon. He added that it would take some time and perhaps detailed forensic work to establish who was killed.


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