April 9, 2003
Early morning Wednesday, April 9, Day 21 of the war, as US troops moved into central Baghdad from the west, northeast and south, it dawned on Baghdads roughly 6 million inhabitants that the Saddam regime was no longer visible. Very quickly, scenes of jubilation were mixed with riotous looting, first of government buildings - later, gunfire rattled from shops whose owners defended their property. Joyous crowds tore down symbols of Saddams iron rule, set fire to the Olympic Committee headquarters headed by Uday Hussein and sacked palaces. Dancing Baghdad citizens mobbed and threw flowers at a convoy of US Marines as they rolled into Tahrir Square at the heart of the city, later pulling down together the colossal statue of Saddam Hussein. These televised scenes ignited joyous outbursts in the streets of Kurdistan in the north.
However, early signs of civic disorder starting in Basra spread to Baghdad and other places in the hiatus between the crumbling regime and absence of incoming forces of law and order. This situation was quickly exploited by undercover Iraqi intelligence agents, who helped to stir up random street violence and a breakdown of order. Some Saddam loyalists removed their uniforms and seized sniping positions in residential districts. American troops remained on the constant lookout for booby-traps, terrorists and traps.
It is too soon to determine that Baghdad has fallen; US troops expect to face resistance from remnants of Saddams army in parts of this large city outside the ceremonial center filmed on Wednesday.
The redeployment of the 1st Marines Expeditionary Force and the 3rd Armored Division at the center of Baghdad with very little resistance quickly bisected the city, restricting movement between the northeastern and some of the southwestern districts. US forces will endeavor to keep to the security zone running down the center and, barring extraordinary situations, off the city streets. When the town settles down in a few days, US forces will re-divide the two sections, drawing security belts between the four parts - and so on, city block by city block, until every corner has been cleared.
This unique tactic is designed to secure Baghdad without causing large numbers of casualties - either among the incoming troops or the civilian population. Operation Baghdad promises to be the largest and most significant American military feat after the capture of the international airport at least on the surface.
DEBKAfiles military sources stress that the secret military operation
taking place underground and out of sight since the beginning of this week may
be as important and audacious. It is there that US forces are fighting their
way through the bunkers and tunnels honeycombing subterranean Baghdad, some
four to six tiers and buried 60 to 90 ft deep.