· Hundreds cheer U.S. Marines
· Jubilation in northern Iraq
· Forces focus on Tikrit
Wednesday April 9, 2003
The US military today said that Saddam Hussein’s regime is over as jubilant Iraqis greeted American troops mopping up fading resistance in Baghdad.
Looting broke out unhindered in the Iraqi capital, and the US say the country’s citizens have reached the “tipping point” at which they have realised that the regime is coming to an end.
At central command in Qatar, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said that President Saddam’s government was no longer in control of Baghdad.
“We are at a degree of tipping point where … there is a broad recognition that this regime is coming to an end and will not return in the way it has been in the past,” he told reporters, according to Reuters news agency.
However, he warned that the regime still posed a threat, including the possible use of chemical or biological weapons.
Central command had earlier reported “sporadic but fierce firefights” in the capital, and predicted that its troops still faced days of tough fighting elsewhere in Iraq.
Guardian reporter James Meek, who was with US marines in Baghdad, said that resistance to the US troops had “all but collapsed”. Downing Street said command and control in Baghdad “appeared to have disintegrated”.
TV pictures showed Iraqis welcoming US forces, and chaotic scenes of government buildings being looted without any sign of Iraqi police or troops keeping order. There were also reports of Iraqis celebrating in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.
These included the city of Irbil, 220 miles north of Baghdad, and the Guardian’s Luke Harding, in Sulaimaniya, also witnessed scenes of jubilation.
“Everybody has poured out onto the street and there are scenes of total chaos and sheer, sheer delight,” he said.
“Thousands of people are in the streets celebrating. They believe Iraq is liberated. They believe that Saddam Hussein is finished and it’s all over. There’s an absolute damburst of joy here.”
In Baghdad, the UN headquarters and shops near the Olympic Committee’s building were ransacked, as were military installations, government buildings and research institutions. Government computers, furniture and even military jeeps were taken from sites around the city.
There were also signs that Iraq’s efforts to sustain its public relations campaign were collapsing after government-employed journalists’ minders failed to turn up for their work.
Uncensored reports by foreign reporters began to come from the capital, and Iraqi state television was off the air.
Resistance seemed to fade as increasing numbers of US troops moved through the capital, hunting down small bands of Iraqi fighters. The action followed one of quietest nights in Baghdad since the conflict began.
US troops advanced on central Baghdad from the south-west of the city. Other units steadily expanded their reach, opening a new northern corridor in the city. They secured a military airport and a prison, and set fire to a Republican Guard barracks.
From the south-east, marines secured routes inside the city and pursued small, roving bands of Iraqis armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. In one neighbourhood, numerous civilians flashed thumbs-up signals to the US troops.