April 8, 2003
Posted at: 2:54 p.m. CST
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi forces staged a major counterattack Tuesday morning, sending buses and trucks full of fighters across the Tigris River in a failed attempt to overrun U.S. forces holding a strategic intersection on the western side of Baghdad.
At least 50 Iraqi fighters were killed, said Capt. Philip Wolford a company commander with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. Two U.S. soldiers were reported wounded — one seriously — by rooftop snipers later targeted by coalition air support.
U.S. troops strafed the Iraqis from A-10 Warthog attack planes and opened up with artillery and mortar fire. About an hour after the firefight began, Wolford moved his tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles forward again, retook the intersection and began pursuing the remaining Iraqi defenders.
The fighting was escalated by a U.S. decision not to destroy bridges across the Tigris, allowing the Iraqis easy access to cross the river, said Col. David Perkins of the 3rd Infantry. The U.S. troops control of most of the Tigris' west bank, Perkins said.
As night fell on the capital, a series of loud explosions rattled central Baghdad — some of it apparently from U.S. tanks on the west bank. Attacks by allied aircraft remained intensive, with warplanes from the U.S.S. Constellation bombing artillery sites and other targets in the vicinity of Baghdad.
The fighting had almost completely stopped Tuesday night, with U.S. troops hastily constructing wire barriers on bridges across the Tigris.
Early Monday, U.S. tank-borne forces stormed into central Baghdad and turned a presidential palace on the west bank of the Tigris into a base of operations. But on Tuesday, Perkins said, about 500 Iraqi forces took part in the counterattack. They were a combination of special Republican Guard, Fedayeen and Baath Party loyalists — "a lot of civilian-dressed fighters," he said.
The Iraqi attack began shortly after dawn, when more than 20 buses and trucks dropped off dozens of Iraqi foot soldiers firing assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. tanks blocking an intersection leading to a bridge over the Tigris, Wolford said.
Two A-10s strafed the building tops and the street with 30mm rapid-fire cannon that reverberated across the city. Wolford, of Marysville, Ohio, asked if the jets could also hit bunkers built in a city park.
"If they can hit that bunker complex. we'll be set to go back in," Wolford told a flight controller directing the pilots. Two subsequent strafing runs prompted Wolford to comment, "They're a beautiful thing."
In the past two days, the Army has seen few Iraqis give up. Many have fought to the death, an indication these were hard-core loyalists, and there were short exchanges of fire around the city.
"As regime forces are located, they are being attacked," said Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, a U.S. Central Command spokesman. "We are continuing to expand areas of influence in the city, and removing them from regime control."
One such area claimed Tuesday was Rasheed Airport, a military facility in the southeast corner of Baghdad. U.S. Central Command in Qatar said Marines overcame Iraqi resistance at Rasheed and were working to tighten their control of the airport.
A Reuters cameraman and a Spanish TV cameraman were killed and at least three other journalists were injured Tuesday when their hotel in central Baghdad was fired on, apparently by a U.S. tank. The Americans said they were retaliating against fire in the area of the hotel, the Palestine, where many foreign reporters covering the war are staying.
About two dozen journalists held a candlelight vigil in memory of the two dead cameramen on the lawn in front of the hotel, according to Arab television reports.
In a separate incident, the Arab TV network al-Jazeera reported that a U.S. plane attacked its office on the banks of the Tigris River, killing a reporter.
Explosions, the thud of shells landing, anti-aircraft and machine-gun fire and the drone of aircraft filled the air in Baghdad on Tuesday.
For the first time since the war began, residents of the capital could see, rather than just hear, allied aircraft. A lone fighter jet flew over Baghdad, swerving, diving and, at times, causing a boom that rocked the city.
State television went off the air around midmorning. Many residents were hunkered down in their homes. But some civilians seemed to casually go about their business with a Kalashnikov in hand.
In U.S.-controlled regions, Iraqi civilians left their homes to cheerfully greet U.S. troops. Many began volunteering detailed information about where Saddam loyalists might be found.
Traffic built up toward the north of the city and thousands of people continued to flee Baghdad to the relative safety of the north and northeast. They fled in all sorts of vehicles — buses, trucks, minibuses and pickup trucks — and took food, clothes, mattresses, blankets and kitchen utensils.
Some cars sagged under the weight. Other battered vehicles broke down on the road, worsening the bumper-to-bumper congestion.
Long lines formed at gas stations. Some ran out of gas and closed; others were taken over by the U.S. military. Uncollected garbage piled up in some sections of the city.
In the well-to-do al-Mansour neighborhood, Iraqi rescue workers used a bulldozer to recover bodies Tuesday from debris left by an American airstrike aimed at killing Saddam Hussein and his sons the day before. The blast destroyed three houses, sending their steel ceiling beams flying at least 100 yards down the street.
Around daybreak, troops with the Army's 101st Airborne Division launched an attack after coming under fire from a former Republican Guard headquarters about half a mile from the international airport outside Baghdad. Two Iraqis were reported killed in the gun battle, while there were no U.S. casualties.
"To stay here as much as they've been bombed and the artillery used, they either have to be dumb or have some heart," said Spec. Steven Shalloway, 21, of Kingsport, Tenn.
The Americans secured a hill outside the airport overlooking a residential neighborhood, turning on loudspeakers to advise people they should stay inside to avoid any crossfire.
U.S. forces also were searching an amusement park and zoo where there could be weapons of mass destruction, Perkins said. Initial searches turned up hundreds of anti-aircraft guns and artillery pieces.
"The tactical side of this is about to come to an end," Perkins said.