Baghdad airport attacked
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- -- American armored divisions have launched an assault on Saddam International Airport 20 kilometers from the center of Baghdad as U.S.-led coalition troops advance on a blacked-out Iraqi capital.
Eyewitnesses reported fighting and shelling around the southwestern edge of the city near the airport.
The Pentagon has confirmed U.S. forces have reached the airport in southwestern Baghdad.
Checkpoints around the capital are closed and Iraqi civilians are not being allowed to leave Baghdad, a source in the city told CNN.
However, Iraqi government vehicles were going through neighborhoods near the airport and ordering residents to leave their houses and walk toward the airport. A number of people were complying with the order, the source said.
The Iraqi military had concentrated forces near the airport as part of what may be a final effort to defend the Iraqi capital, U.S. officials told CNN.
The Iraqi forces included elements of as many as four regular army divisions. The Iraqi Special Republican Guard and members of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's security services are also stationed in the city.
Troops from the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division were in positions southeast and west of the airport, sources told Reuters.
Meanwhile, much of Baghdad was pitched into darkness when electricity supplies were disrupted. It was the first time the lights had gone out over a large section of the capital since the conflict began about two weeks ago.
In Washington, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, said he did not know the cause of the blackout.
Central Command "has not targeted the power grid in Baghdad," he told reporters. "We do not."
CNN's Nic Robertson reports that the blackout may be a deliberate tactic by the Iraqi leaders.
The blackout appears unrelated to Coalition bombing. A series of explosions in the city followed the outage.
Coalition forces say they advanced to the edge of Baghdad having faced little resistance from Republican Guard units.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon says U.S. intelligence analysis has concluded that all the appearances of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein shown on Iraqi television since the war began were taped before March 19.
But a spokesman for the CIA says it has not come to that conclusion but adds that it is "quite likely," (Video analysis)
U.S. President George W. Bush told an audience of Marines and their families at Camp Lejeune Thursday that "a vice is closing" around Baghdad.
"Having traveled hundreds of miles, we will now go the last 200 yards," Bush declared. "The course is set. We're on the advance. Our destination is Baghdad and we will accept nothing less than complete and final victory." (Full story)
South of Baghdad the U.S. Army said the 101st Airborne Division had taken control of Najaf Thursday, where the day before UK and Iraqi officials had accused each other of targeting an important holy site, the Ali Mosque.
Britain's Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon repeated Pentagon warnings that no one should overestimate the speed at which the campaign can be concluded.
"We are in the second phase of steady progress" he told the House of Commons Thursday, saying speculation on a timetable for Baghdad's fall should not be encouraged.
Special Operations forces raided a palace about 100 kilometers from Baghdad used by Saddam and his sons, said U.S. Central Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks.
Meanwhile Thursday, British forces were consolidating their position in Basra after seizing key suburbs following heavy bombardment the previous evening. (Full story)
But the coalition has suffered more losses. Military officials said an F/A-18C Hornet fighter bomber from the USS Kitty Hawk and a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter had gone down. (Full story)
U.S. officials are "very seriously" looking into whether the Hornet may have been accidentally shot down by a U.S. Patriot missile Thursday, Pentagon officials told CNN.
Excluding possible fatalities in the two recent aircraft crashes, U.S. and British officials say 78 coalition service members have died in what they call "Operation Iraqi Freedom." (Coalition casualties)
Iraqi television said Monday that 420 civilians had been killed and 4,000 injured. CNN cannot confirm the numbers.
On Thursday, U.S. Marines fired at a taxi which failed to stop at a checkpoint, killing three people, including a two-year-old boy. His mother is in a critical condition.
In other developments
• In Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the nature of the U.N. role in a postwar Iraq has yet to be determined, but that the coalition behind the war should have a leading role. (Full story)
• Hundreds of Kurdish troops were securing a 14 km (8 mile) stretch of road between the northern towns of Kalak and Mosul after Iraqi soldiers withdrew Wednesday.
• Qatar-based Arab-language news agency Al-Jazeera said it had suspended the work of all its journalists in Iraq after Baghdad expelled one of their colleagues. (Full story)
• Informants told U.S. Marines that Gen. Ali Hassan al Majeed, Saddam Hussein's cousin known as "Chemical Ali," recently met the Iraqi resistance in the Nasiriya hospital where a U.S. soldier was held prisoner. (Hospital meeting)
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