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Street fighting rages; bombs target Saddam

Tuesday, April 8, 2003

U.S. forces set up a base in central Baghdad and a warplane dropped bunker-busting bombs aimed at President Saddam Hussein and his two sons.
Iraqi forces staged a counterattack in the capital shortly after dawn today, sending fighters to overrun U.S. forces holding a strategic intersection. U.S. troops strafed the Iraqis from planes overhead and with mortar and artillery fire. Within an hour, U.S. tanks retook the intersection. At least 50 Iraqi fighters were killed, and two U.S. soldiers were reported wounded, one seriously, by snipers on rooftops.
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 an upscale 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 two bodies from the rubble, but said the toll could be as high as 14.
Gaining control
U.S. troops in Baghdad have no plans to pull back, Army Col. David Perkins said today. They now control most of the West Bank of the Tigris, the river the divides the city, and they plan to join up with U.S. forces at the airport, further west. The Marines are advancing from east.
"We survived the first night, and that's usually the most difficult one," said Perkins, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade.
The soldiers hunkered down in the sprawling, blue-and-gold-domed New Presidential Palace, where Saddam once slept, and patrolled neighborhoods in the city's center. At least a dozen Iraqis were being held in a hastily erected holding pen on the grounds.
Al-Jazeera staffer killed
As airstrikes continued today, Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera reported its office was bombed, killing one staffer. While the network's cameras rolled, a second bomb fell in the same neighborhood on the Tigris, where a number of TV channels have offices. Abu Dhabi TV said its office had also been hit.
Later, the Palestine Hotel, home base for many journalists, was struck by what was believed to be tank fire. Four Reuters staff members were injured in the blast, the British news agency said.
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf was speaking to reporters outside the hotel when it was hit. He dismissed a question on whether Iraq would surrender.
"The capital, especially the commandos, are getting ready to wipe them out," he said.In southeastern Baghdad, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines took over a prison overnight, where they found U.S. army uniforms and chemical weapons suits, possibly from captured U.S. soldiers. Shortly after dawn, the Marines were attacked by Iraqis firing rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s; Marine snipers shot more than a dozen of them.
Other Marines were sent to guard a nuclear plant today. Near the airport, soldiers with the Army's 101st Airborne Division killed two Iraqis in a gunbattle at a former Republican Guard headquarters.