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Signs of U.S. occupation everywhere at Baghdad airport

BAGHDAD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Iraq—Four days into American occupation, this airfield is developing the look and feel of a U.S. military installation.

Long parallel columns of cargo trucks carrying fuel, food, water and other supplies stretched across the southern end of the airfield Tuesday as drivers waited for instructions on where to unload.

Dozens of helicopters—Apaches for close air support, UH60 Black Hawks for troop transport and MH60 Pave Hawk for special operations—idled on the airfield, largely empty just a few days ago.

Two C130 cargo planes landed in the early morning hours, the first planes to do so, according to people here, in spite of assertions from Central Command that a cargo plane had arrived Monday. The planes brought in more troops.

There were still skirmishes along the airport's perimeter, especially to the east, where elements of the 101st Airborne engaged Iraqi forces for the third day in a row Tuesday. There was no word on casualties.

But batteries of 155 mm self-propelled Paladin artillery were largely quiet for the first time in days and were relocated to new positions south of the airport, close to where U.S. troops continue to face almost daily attacks.

A few thousand yards east of the airport, soldiers with 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne, are dug in with automatic weapons, mortars, anti-tank missiles, heavy machine guns. Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles are nearby.

For the third time in as many days, they fought off Iraqi forces, with the help of a pair of A-10 Thunderbolts that pummeled the Iraqi positions near a small hill with 30 mm Gatling guns, a pair of cluster bombs that scatter bomblets over a wide area and one Maverick air-to-ground missile.

Troops from Alpha Company cheered as the jets fired and huge fireballs erupted.

Nearby, a pair of Iraqi T-72 tanks lay blasted in the middle of the road, their turrets severed from the main chassis of each tank. They'd been destroyed Friday.

Tank rounds and small arms ammunition, and charred tank wreckage and equipment lay everywhere. A severed torso still lay in the road, and a mangled pair of burned legs lay close to the tank. An arm, its hand clenched into a claw, had landed nearby.

Soldiers walked past the wreckage snapping photos. The smell of rotting flesh was overwhelming.

"I've got to give the Iraqis their `props,'" said Pfc. Matthew Glover, 25, using slang for respect. "They keep coming, they just keep coming. They must be pretty desperate, it's kind of sad really."

Late Monday, soldiers from Apache Company of the 1-30th Infantry of the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division also downed an American drone, fearing it was an Iraqi aircraft.

"We didn't know what it was," said 1st Lt. Jerzey Matakusick. "They said they had hang gliders a few days ago. Until we saw it we thought `what have they got, chemical weapons, grenades or what?' That thing didn't have a chance."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):