U.S. forces continued an almost unimpeded advance toward Baghdad, launching a night attack on Saddam International Airport on the capital's southwest edge. Special Forces units seized documents in a raid on a presidential palace near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, and U.S. and Kurdish forces attacked Iraqi troops in the north.
In Baghdad, Iraqi officials continued to deny that U.S. and British troops were having any military success. At nightfall, Baghdad was plunged into darkness as electric power was lost and more major explosions could be heard in the center of the city.
President Bush told Marines and their families at Camp Lejeune, N.C., that "the days of a brutal regime are coming to an end."
Units of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division were on the outskirts of Baghdad, securing a key highway interchange five miles south of the suburbs and fighting their way into Saddam International Airport.
Other units from the division approached from a more southerly direction, stopping about 10 miles from the edge of the capital, within sight of its bomb-scarred skyline.
Like their counterparts in the West, U.S. Marines were braced for a major battle with the Baghdad Division of the Republican Guard. But by the time the Marines arrived at the Tigris River town of Numaniyah, the Iraqi fighters had abandoned their positions. Instead they faced only sporadic small-arms fire as they crossed the Tigris about 80 miles southeast of Baghdad.
The Marines then moved to a highway along the Tigris River, blasting an Iraqi tank battalion and eventually halting within 15 miles of the capital.
The strategy of the blackout and its duration remained a mystery. Neither Iraqi radio nor television mentioned it. Although the blackout followed the U.S. assault on the airport, U.S. military forces said they had not targeted the network or its most substantial power generating plant near the airport.
But Iraqi officials dismissed reports of the U.S. advance. "We are giving them a real lesson today," Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf told a news conference. "They are not near Baghdad, don't believe them," he said.
ELSEWHERE IN IRAQ
British troops, who had surrounded Basra for more than a week, moved into an industrial area on the edge of the key southern city, the second-biggest in Iraq. The British are trying to balance protecting their own troops with the responsibilities of mingling with the population and humanitarian chores.
In Najaf, U.S. officials said, a top Shiite cleric issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling on Iraqis to remain calm and not interfere with U.S. and British forces. U.S. Army troops and sympathetic Shiite Muslims collaborated to blow up an equestrian statue of Hussein there.
In Tikrit, Special Forces troops swooped into one of Hussein's palaces overnight, seizing documents and clashing with guards. In the far north, U.S. Special Forces units and Kurdish militiamen captured the town of Bardarash, which had been held by Hussein's military for 13 years and is one of a few routes linking the city of Mosul with ethnic Kurdish areas.
-- James L. Rowe Jr.