The Iraqi leadership seemed to vanish from Baghdad yesterday, as U.S. Army and Marine units swept through the city almost at will and seized some of the last remaining strongholds of President Saddam Hussein's shattered government. A city that just three days ago greeted the first probes by U.S. forces with bullets, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades seemed to erupt in celebration, although fierce battles continued in several places inside and outside Baghdad.

In a scene of potent symbolism, a Marine M88 tank recovery vehicle dragged down a 20-foot-tall statue of Hussein before a crowd of cheering Iraqis, who then pounced on it with sledgehammers and dragged the severed head through the streets. But neither the military nor U.S. intelligence could find any trace of the Iraqi leader or of most key members of his ruling Baath Party. Some military commanders speculated they could be holed up in Hussein's ancestral home town north of Baghdad, preparing for a possibly bloody last stand.

Massive looting continued in some neighborhoods of Baghdad and Basra, Iraq's second-largest city. Aid organizations warned of a humanitarian catastrophe if civil order were not quickly restored.

There was muted reaction from the White House, where President Bush watched the scene on television, but Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld could not contain their elation at the stunningly swift collapse of resistance in the Iraqi capital just 21 days after the coalition attack began. But Rumsfeld warned that the fight wasn't over, and "there's going to be some very tough days ahead."


In big trucks, small pickups and buses, Kurdish guerrillas began to move on the approaches to the key cities of Kirkuk and Mosul, but an all-out assault on the center of the oil-rich northern region appeared to be beyond the reach of the Kurds and the few thousand U.S. ground forces in the area. The rival PUK and KDP militias joined forces, but any decisive action was likely to be hamstrung by military, political and economic considerations.


With organized resistance evaporating, the Bush administration and the military were hoping that Iraqis freed from the fear of the Baath Party's iron rule would come forward to identify the stores of hidden chemical and biological weapons that the United States had cited as the main justification for the war.

Although U.S. and British forces now control broad swaths of Iraq, they have yet to face a chemical or biological attack or to find caches of the banned weapons, complicating the administration's hopes of convincing the world, especially skeptics in Europe and the Middle East, that the war was about more than toppling Hussein's government.


All day long, Americans watched the television replays of Hussein's statue coming down with a sense of relief at the diminishing prospect of a drawn-out war. None lamented the fall of the brutal Iraqi government, but some spoke of a sense of foreboding over the task of reconstructing a nation in a region inflamed with anti-American animus. And others wondered how the rest of the world will react in the years ahead to the United States' stunning display of raw military might.

-- Nils J. Bruzelius

An Iraqi man celebrates by holding up a pre-1991 Iraqi flag in Baghdad.