U.S. Marines advanced to the eastern outskirts of Baghdad after facing stiffened Iraqi resistance, while Army forces spent the day consolidating control of the international airport southwest of Baghdad. Other U.S. infantry units controlled the southern access to Baghdad, while U.S. Special Forces are blocking the main northern highway from the capital.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis fled the capital. The Iraqi information minister threatened an "untraditional" attack on U.S. troops at the airport while Iraqi television aired a tape of President Saddam Hussein exhorting Iraqis to hit the U.S.-led invasion force "hard." A suicide bombing killed three U.S. soldiers far northwest of Baghdad.
In an unusual and unexplained action, the Marine Corps relieved Col. Joe Dowdy of command of one of the three major Marine ground units advancing on Baghdad. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said they would meet Monday in Northern Ireland.
To protect their position at the airport, soldiers from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division flushed out remaining Iraqi fighters from buildings, defensive trenches and subterranean tunnels. Although Army officials said they have control of the newly named "Baghdad International Airport," they said they faced sporadic attacks from Iraqi forces. An infantry battalion from the 101st Airborne Division headed north to reinforce U.S. forces there.
The Marines' forward encampment is in the southeastern suburbs near a strategic intersection, providing U.S. forces with footholds from which to mount probes and raids to test the defenses of Baghdad.
U.S. Army troops searching for chemical weapons along the Euphrates River discovered thousands of vials of white powder in a large compound near the town of Latifiyah south of Baghdad. But an Army investigator said early indications were that the substance could not be part of a chemical weapon.
After two weeks of intense bombing, the second day of an electrical blackout and the approach of U.S.-led forces from nearly all sides, there was panic in the usually resilient city. Long before dawn Friday, residents snarled the main road out of Baghdad to northern Iraq, with bumper-to-bumper traffic stretching five or more miles. Most were headed to Diala, a relatively tranquil farm province.
But within the city, government officials breathed defiance. After showing Hussein's speech urging Iraqis to resist the United States, state-run television then showed a tape, purportedly of Hussein, dressed in military garb and walking down a street mobbed with supporters. Hussein made reference to the March 24 downing of a U.S. helicopter, providing evidence that he might have survived the attack on his bunker March 20.
Iraq's information minister, Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf, said that there would be more suicide bombings, Iraqis would undertake "martyrdom operations in a very new, creative way" and the airport would be "the graveyard" of U.S. forces.
IN THE NORTH
Three U.S. soldiers were killed in a suicide attack at a checkpoint near the Haditha Dam, on the Euphrates River 130 miles northwest of Baghdad, when a pregnant woman crying in distress lured the troops toward a vehicle rigged with explosives.
-- James L. Rowe Jr.