U.S. Marines seized the center of Baghdad, meeting little resistance as Iraqis in parts of the capital began celebrating, looting and destroying statues and posters of Saddam Hussein.
Some 20,000 Marines crunched into the eastern half of Baghdad in a one-day probe that turned into a permanent occupation when they ran into eerily little resistance during attacks on Saddam's Azumiyah palace and the headquarters of the Special Republican Guard.
Marines reported indiscriminate Iraqi artillery fire raining on the eastern suburb of Saddam City, where there were few Marines but 2 million Shiite Muslims regarded as foes of Saddam's mostly Sunni regime. Uprisings occurred there and in a handful of other Baghdad locations, and Iraqis also rejoiced in the southern city of Hillah and the northern city of Irbil. Television reports showed Iraqis honking horns, dancing and cheering U.S. forces.
As brief, fierce firefights raged in parts of Baghdad on Wednesday, celebrating Iraqis began looting and even took off their shoes to whack a fallen Saddam statue.
Iraq's defiant information minister did not appear Wednesday, and television reports said the Iraqi minders who normally accompany journalists had fled.
Americans defeated the Iraqi army's 10th and 14th divisions, occupying an Amara headquarters, which will now be used to distribute humanitarian aid.
Gunfire and explosions got more intense as dark fell; observers heard tank and artillery fire on the western bank of the Tigris.
Five miles south of Baghdad, a search-and-rescue team braved enemy fire and severe weather to rescue two special operations soldiers who had been badly wounded 5 miles south of Baghdad.
In the crossroads community of Qa'im, near the Syrian border, pilots launched airstrikes at the Baath Party headquarters.
In the north, Special Forces soldiers working with Kurdish fighters clashed overnight with Iraqis on the "green line" that divides Kurdish-controlled territory from Saddam's Iraq. More than 200 Iraqi combatants were captured as air strikes pounded command and control structures.
CASUALTIES TO DATE
U.S. military: At least 101 dead.
British military: 30 dead.
Iraqi forces: Unavailable.
In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal expressed fears of a "humanitarian disaster" in Iraq and said the country must move swiftly toward self-government by the Iraqi people. U.S. and British military occupation, he said, must end "as soon as possible." The Saudi government, he said, does not seek a role in the creation of an interim government.
IN THE UNITED STATES
President Bush maintained a low profile as the world watched televised images of jubilant Iraqis cheering the apparent end of Saddam Hussein's reign.
Bush did not appear publicly except for a photo session with the president of the Slovak Republic, where he made no comment. His only words for public consumption were reported secondhand:
"They got it down," Bush said as he watched a crowd in Baghdad celebrate the ruin of a statue of Saddam, according to a spokesman. While the moment was historic, the president was aware that "there is great danger that could still lie ahead," said spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Mohammed Al-Douri, seemed to sense the end of Saddam's rule. He said in New York: "The game is over, and I hope the peace will prevail. I hope the Iraqi people will have a happy life."
WEATHER IN BAGHDAD
Thursday: Partly cloudy
High temperature: 86
Low temperature: 52
"It's a little too early to say Baghdad has fallen. People are feeling liberated. They're feeling this grip of terror that has been holding them so tight may be coming to an end. ... We still have some fierce fighting ahead."—_ U.S. Navy Capt. Frank Thorp
"Yes, America let us down once, twice, three times. But still, our only hope is America."—_ Delear Salhi, U.S. military interpreter and Kirkuk native.
"We have been told the (American bombing) technology is very precise, that it won't miss the target, but that's not the case. I would like to see an immediate end to the war."— a Qatar Red Crescent Society official.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.