04/15 - U.S. marines seize airfield in Tikrit - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

04/15 - U.S. marines seize airfield in Tikrit

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Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2003 9:30 am | Updated: 2:23 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

TIKRIT, Iraq - U.S. tanks and troops moved through the streets of Tikrit in force Tuesday after overpowering Iraqi troops in Saddam Hussein's hometown, but the anger and loyalty of its residents was not easily overcome.

While U.S. helicopters flew overhead, U.S. Marines searched pedestrians for weapons at checkpoints and vehicle traffic was strictly controlled. The Marines seized the Tikrit South Airfield, on the city's southern outskirts, while taking rocket fire from Saddam loyalists.

American tanks at a bridge over the Tigris River barred people from crossing, triggering the fury of a crowd.

"Americans are against freedom and democracy!" shouted one man.

"Saddam shall return!" shouted another. "Victory is coming!"

"(The Americans) are animals - people are sick of this. People are hungry," said a third.

U.S. tanks stood outside Saddam's presidential palace, which was seized without a fight, the military said. Plumes of smoke rose Tuesday from buildings around the Tikrit airfield, which was earlier pummeled by U.S. air attacks.

At another airfield, Balad Southeast, the runway was strewn with garbage and old trucks to prevent coalition forces from landing their planes.

American troops met less resistance than anticipated and the town's defenders had been subjected to airstrikes for several days. Marines had attacked Tikrit from the south, west and north, capturing a key Tigris River bridge in the center of the city.

Massive explosions, billowing smoke and flashes of light were seen and heard from Tikrit late Monday.

On Tuesday, some people were looting the city agricultural building and the governor-general's office but large-scale looting like that in Baghdad or Kirkuk was not immediately evident.

"We're taking all automatic weapons," Marine Cpl. Courtney Davis said at a checkpoint. "With handguns and pistols, we take the rounds and give them back the guns because they need them for protection against looters."

Davis, from Clarkson, Utah, said the Marines got AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades from some vehicles. "Yesterday we got 13 AKs and detained four people," he said.

Davis said he had heard from his superiors that there were still pockets of resistance in the city - and said locals told them there were still Iraqi military hiding out.

At the gates to Al Adl, or Justice Street, one of the main roads of Tikrit, a statue of Saddam on a horse stood proud and intact. The ousted president's photographs still blanketed the city - and his images were not defaced or broken.

A crowd of 30 men milling around was asked if they believed Saddam was alive or dead. "Alive" was the consensus.

"Whatever Saddam is, he is the son of Iraq," businessman Osama Ali said.

"They have come for oil!" said Mohammed Ramadan, trembling and distraught about the American presence. "Let them take the oil and leave!"

"Just don't attack our homes or our women," said Ramadan, a 39-year-old barber, his eyes brimming with tears. "We have honor here."

Abdel Sattar Sharif Shehab al-Nasseri, 23, said he was a relative of Saddam. Asked why there was little resistance in Tikrit, a center of Saddam's tribe and a powerbase of the president, he replied, "Because Tikrit is small and because ... the one who surrenders his weapon is a traitor."

People standing around him agreed.

But at the provincial governor-general's office, looters carrying away office furniture and supplies did not share such a high opinion of the president.

"What we are stealing is nothing compared to what he stole," said looter Samir Mohammed

U.S. forces had suspected about 2,500 holdouts from the Republican Guard and the paramilitary Saddam's Fedayeen - and possibly officials from the Iraqi president's regime - were holed up in the town, 90 miles north of Baghdad.

Capt. Frank Thorp, a Central Command spokesman, said U.S. forces to the south and west of the city had created checkpoints to prevent regime leaders from escaping. He said initial fighting had been fierce, but there was no information on casualties.

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