WASHINGTON, April 5 (UPI) -- The fight for Baghdad is a two-front war, as American troops battle both to control the streets and to control the television images Iraq's citizens are shown.
U.S. soldiers made a daring and dangerous raid into the center of Baghdad Saturday during the day, an operation carried out not to gain terrain as is traditional in war time, but just to prove to the Iraqis that they could.
The Iraqi information minister said in an interview with Arab television that the American claims were false and the footage in the city was fabricated, CNN reported Saturday.
The procession "put a bit of an exclamation point on the fact that coalition troops are in fact in the vicinity of Baghdad, do in fact have the ability to come into the city at places of their choosing, and demonstrate to the Iraqi leadership that they do not have control in a fashion that they continue to say they do on their television. And I think we made that point," said U.S. Central Command Director of Operations Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart.
The heavily armored raid was conducted by two task forces of the Third Infantry Division. They began south of the city, then preceded north to the Tigris River that bisects Baghdad, and then swung wet out to the airport.
The raid featured dozens of both Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks. They battled Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard and irregular forces, fighting from infantry positions, with rocket propelled grenades and 23 mm and 57 mm anti-aircraft guns firing on the American force, according to Renuart.
Renuart said there was "intense fighting" against the convoy in some areas of the city, but the city's response seems mixed.
"On the other hand, in some areas, people were standing on the sidewalks waving to us. So clearly there is confusion in Baghdad," he said.
The daylight raid sent a critical message about U.S. power, he said.
"I think that it was very clear to the people of Baghdad that coalition forces were in the city. That image is important, and so I think being in the daytime was a very clear -- it was a very clear statement to the Iraqi regime as well that we can move at times and places of our choosing, even into their capital city," he said.
Renuart noted with some derision the thus far unfulfilled threat from Iraq's information minister of a bloody and unconventional attack that would be carried out on U.S. forces at the airport.
"He said yesterday that there would be this amazing new attack last night, and I don't know what that was -- unless it was the videos," Renuart said, referring to newly released videotapes of Saddam Hussein walking in the street surrounded by gun-toting admirers.
Similar probes are likely to continue, as the U.S. military tried to walk the careful line between routing the Iraqi forces from the city without being drawn into all out urban combat.
Urban fighting carries with it the possibility of massive casualties, on both sides and among Iraqi civilians, as well as tremendous damage to building and streets. A critical part of the U.S. strategy is to leave Baghdad intact and cause as few civilian casualties as possible, both of which will ease the way for a new U.S.-led interim government.
Renuart admitted the Untied States has had difficulty denying the Saddam Hussein regime access to the airwaves, a critical piece of the strategy to convince Baghdad the dictator's reign is finished. The longer Saddam Hussein is able to show his image on television, the longer it will take to convince the people he is gone and to switch their loyalty to the American invaders. The U.S. government is trying to find a way to prevent Iraq from getting access to satellite services.
"I can say that it appears that there are a number of satellite companies who have sold broadcast time to Iraqi National Television, and so we're trying to work in some way to encourage that not happen," Renuart said.
For the U.S. military's part, it is broadcasting on Iraqi Channel 3.
"We're trying to expand our ability for Iraqis (who support the United States) to broadcast on satellite television. And as we try to improve that capability and expand that capability, we will do so," Renuart said.
"We're beginning to see many more leaders in the communities of Basra and An Nasiriyah, As-Samawa, Najaf, even now towards Karbala, become much more supportive, openly supportive of the coalition forces as they see the threat from these other irregular troops go away. And some have expressed interest in helping to get that message out."
Despite the early success in Baghdad, Renuart warned the fight for the city and indeed for control of the country is not over yet.
Dozens of U.S. strike aircraft are continuously circling Baghdad waiting to provide urban combat bombing support for American soldiers, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Moseley told reporters at the Pentagon from his Saudi Arabian base Saturday. Some of the aircraft are equipped with precision 500-lb "inert" bombs, which can be targeted at individual buildings without inflicting much collateral damage on surrounding areas because they do not explode.
Baghdad's air defense are still intact but have been significantly degraded, Moseley said.
Air power has made a major dent in Iraqi ground forces, Moseley said.
"We are not softening the Republican Guard, we are killing them," he said.
The newly named Baghdad Airport is relatively secure but is coming under frequent artillery attacks from enemy forces without much success, Renuart said.
The airfield and a warren of underground facilities are being carefully checked for booby traps.
"But we feel like we can operate on the airfield with ease," he said.
One of the runways was destroyed by U.S. bombs to prevent Iraqi leadership from fleeing but a second, civilian airstrip is intact, albeit covered in mounds of dirt.
He said the airport is in good condition and the landing strip will be in use quickly. The airport's condition is an indication that the quick feint by the 3rd Infantry Division to the airfield rather than attacking Iraqi forces in Karbala was successful in gaining the edge of surprise, he suggested.
"It appears the rest of the infrastructure on the airport was intact, and I think the -- well, the Iraqi government still today says we're not there, so clearly they weren't expecting us, so they left the airfield in a fairly operable condition," Renuart said.
Renuart could not confirm reports there had been a suicide bomb attack at the airport.
"We've had a couple of reports of those activities that have been true over the last few days. The one today I tried to check just before I walked in. That has not come up on anybody's radar scope," he said.
Marines and Army forces launched attacks across central Iraq, seizing a vast munitions cache in Diwaniya, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, and attacking Karbala to the southwest of the capital. They took the headquarters of the Republican Guard's Medina Division, a unit the U.S. military declared largely destroyed on Thursday.
With the Army entrenched on the west side of Baghdad, Marine units are operating on the east side of the city. Renuart said Marines have been engaged in challenging combat for the last 36 hours, some of it hand-to-hand combat with Iraqi forces.
"But that's basically infantry moving through positions on the battlefield. So I am certain that they probably had some very difficult engagements in that area," he said.
British forces continue to "destroy: the remnants of four regular army divisions around al-Amarah in southeastern Iraq.
The United States now has some 6,500 Iraqi prisoners of war. British and American forces control a "substantial" percentage of the southern oil fields.
Renuart trumpeted the logistical campaign supporting the nearly 200,000 American, British and Australian troops in Iraq. Some 2,500 support vehicles transit the 350-mile long supply route connecting Baghdad to Kuwait daily. The military has transported 65 million gallons of fuel thus far into Iraq, and trucks carry in the 1.5 million liters of water consumed daily by coalition forces. About two million tons of spare parts and support equipment are moved around the battlefield each day, and roughly 330,000 meals-ready to eat are consumed daily.