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U.S. strikes in central Baghdad

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. tanks and armored vehicles have launched an attack on central Baghdad, seizing several buildings under the air cover of U.S. warplanes.

U.S. forces had taken over key buildings in the center of Baghdad, including a major presidential palace and the Information Ministry, Reuters and the Associated Press news agencies reported.

The U.S. military says 65 U.S. tanks and 40 fighting vehicle are involved in the operation, Reuters reported.

U.S. troops had taken control of one presidential palace and had entered a second, the military said in the Reuters report.

There were no reports of U.S. casualties so far in Baghdad.

U.S. troops, supported by tanks, had taken up positions deep inside a presidential palace, a Reuters correspondent reported.

"I can see two tanks in front of my eyes at the palace gates. [U.S.] commandos have stormed inside. There is firing everywhere," reporter Samia Nakhoul said. "They are right in the heart of the city."

Reporters saw the tanks roll into the heart of Baghdad on the western side of the Tigris River, which divides the city, at about 6:00 a.m. local time (0200 GMT), AP reported.

CNN broadcast images from Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera television that showed at least two A-10 Thunderbolt warplanes and a Hunter drone circling above the city.

There were also images of what appeared to be oil trenches believed to have been set alight by Iraqi forces to create smokescreens for U.S. warplanes overhead.

"We're attacking right down in the center of the city right now," Maj. Michael Birmingham, chief public affairs officer for the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, told the Reuters news service.

"The other day was just an incursion. This is for real," Birmingham added, referring to an earlier foray of U.S. armored forces into southwest Baghdad.

Earlier, with coalition forces ringing the city, the No. 2 U.S. general urged Iraqi troops to lay down their arms or pay the consequences for defending Saddam Hussein's regime.

"We prefer that the leaders of the Iraqi armed forces do the honorable thing; stop fighting for a regime that does not deserve your loyalty," Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

"Surrender your forces and give yourselves and your troops the opportunity to be a part of Iraq's future and not a part of Iraq's past."

About 7:00 a.m. Monday [0300 GMT], gunfire could be heard in Baghdad as the city awoke after another night of explosions.

Meanwhile, the first coalition military planes began landing at Baghdad's international airport, as U.S. forces tightened their control over the capital, military officials said.

A U.S. C-130 Hercules transport plane brought troops and equipment to the airport under the cover of darkness on Sunday -- the first coalition aircraft to arrive at the facility since the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division claimed it two days ago.

U.S. Central Command confirmed a report from CNN's Walter Rodgers about the landing, which Rodgers said was the first of an anticipated three -- one more C-130 and a C-17 Globemaster transport plane.

Iraqi officials had no immediate comment on the reported landing, but they have consistently said the airport remains in their hands and that coalition troops have been defeated there.

On Sunday, forces from the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division made reconnaissance forays into Baghdad for the second day and faced sporadic resistance, said Rodgers, who is embedded with the division's 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry. (Full story)

Earlier Sunday, British forces made their largest incursion into Basra, setting up a base inside in Iraq's second-largest city. ('Taking control')

Meanwhile, an apparent "friendly fire" incident near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul Sunday killed at least 17 Kurdish fighters and a translator, and wounded at least 45 -- one a senior commander -- near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Kurdish officials said. (Full story)

U.S. Special Forces were also traveling with the Kurdish Peshmerga in a convoy hit by a coalition bomb about 30 miles southeast of Mosul.

A convoy from Baghdad carrying Russian diplomats and journalists trying to flee Iraq was also attacked Sunday as it headed for the Syrian border, U.S. and Russian officials said.

There were conflicting reports about how many people were hurt, who was responsible, and whether the convoy was attacked or accidentally caught in crossfire between Iraqi and coalition troops. (Full story)

In other developments:

• The future of Iraq after the war and without Saddam Hussein will be the focus when U.S. President George Bush meets Monday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair for a summit in Northern Ireland. (Blair, Bush talks)

• U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called a special session of the 15 Security Council members Monday morning to discuss Iraq, Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhart, said Sunday.

• The body of the man who guarded "Chemical Ali" -- accused of ordering Iraqi forces to use chemical weapons on Kurds in 1988 -- was found in the rubble of an air strike that destroyed Ali's home, a U.S. military official said Sunday. (Full story)

• International aid agencies are expressing concern about Iraqi civilian casualties. The World Health Organization says it has reports of hospitals in Baghdad and Basra being overwhelmed by the number of civilians injured in the attacks. (Aid concern)

• Authorities believe the human remains British forces discovered in a barracks outside of Basra are of Iranian soldiers killed during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the Iranian News Agency reported Sunday. (Full story)

• U.S. Central Command said more than 2,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed or wounded Saturday when coalition forces swept through Baghdad on initial reconnaissance missions.

• David Bloom, an NBC News journalist who was covering the war in Iraq, died suddenly of a non-combat ailment while on duty. (Full story)

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.


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