The war's front lines moved ever nearer to Baghdad—just 6 miles away—as coalition troops encountered surprisingly scattered resistance Thursday with the exception of a battle at Saddam International Airport.
U.S. forces are so close to the city of 5 million that military officials have become less worried about being attacked with unconventional weapons. If Saddam Hussein ordered the use of nerve gas or other chemicals, he might kill more Iraqis than Americans.
About 12 miles southwest of the capital, U.S. forces entered the airport Thursday, but they faced a battle to control it early Friday. Iraqi troops, dug in and determined, used tanks and rocket launchers against the Americans.
As darkness fell, it became clear that Baghdad had lost electrical power. The U.S. military said it wasn't responsible. A sustained power outage in the city would disrupt the water supply and sewage services.
In central Iraq, American Marines stationed at a checkpoint opened fire on a taxi they said was rigged with gasoline cans that they thought were a bomb. Two Iraqi men and a child died. An Iraqi passenger in the cab disputed the soldiers' account.
On the northern front, a small group of U.S. special forces led 500 Kurdish guerrillas in a raid on enemy positions just east of Mosul. It was the first time that American soldiers joined indigenous fighters to battle Iraqi forces.
U.S. officials said they were investigating two possible incidents of friendly fire. A Navy F/A-18C Hornet that crashed might have been hit by a Patriot missile, and an F-15E Strike Eagle might have fired on American ground forces, killing at least one. Search teams were seeking the pilot of the Hornet.
The military said that six died and four were injured when a Black Hawk helicopter went down Wednesday night in central Iraq.
CASUALTIES TO DATE
U.S. military: 52 dead.
British military: 27 dead.
Iraqi forces: Unavailable.
In Brussels, Belgium, Secretary of State Colin Powell told his NATO and European Union counterparts that the coalition fighting the war—not the United Nations—must lead the rebuilding of Iraq. That stance has been a sticking point with U.S. allies and didn't change with the meeting at NATO headquarters.
"I think the coalition has to play the leading role," Powell said. "But that does not mean we have to shut others out."
However, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said:
"The United Nations is the only international organization that can give legitimacy to this."
Congress late Thursday approved an $80 billion bill to help pay for the war and for anti-terrorism measures, but it rebuffed the administration by restricting how the money could be spent. Congress also added about $3 billion to aid the airline industry, even though the White House objected to that large of an amount.
Earlier in the day, at the White House's urging, the House of Representatives rejected a bid to strip $1 billion in aid to Turkey from the bill.
Some members of the House wanted to punish Turkey for its limited cooperation in the war.
The House did pass an amendment—again, in opposition to President Bush—to bar postwar reconstruction money from going to firms in France, Germany, Russia or Syria, countries that opposed the war.
That amendment is expected to be dropped next week when lawmakers in the House and Senate work out differences between their measures. The bill is expected to reach the president by April 11.
AROUND THE UNITED STATES
At Camp Lejeune, N.C., President Bush spoke to thousands of soldiers at the sprawling Marine base. He was upbeat in his assessment of the war and offered some barbed humor in greeting his huge audience: "There's no finer sight than to see 12,000 U.S. Marines and Corpsmen, unless you happen to be a member of the Iraqi Republican Guard." At least 13 soldiers from Camp Lejeune have died in the war; six more are missing.
WEATHER IN BAGHDAD
High temperature: 95
Low temperature: 72
"We sort of keep thinking he's setting us up for a fall, and then it doesn't happen."
_British Lt. Col. Jamie Martin, on the recent lack of resistance from Saddam's forces.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.