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Renamed airport gateway to Iraq's future

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Saddam International Airport is under new management and has been renamed Baghdad International Airport, U.S. Central Command officials said today.

Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, during a news conference in Qatar, said Army 5th Corps forces took the airport after heavy fighting. He said the airport will now be the "gateway to the future of Iraq."

Brooks, the CENTCOM deputy operations chief, also reported on coalition casualties following a suicide bombing at Hadithah Dam area in western Iraq. He said initial reports are that the explosion occurred as a vehicle approached the checkpoint.

"A woman who appeared to be pregnant exited the vehicle, screaming for assistance and in some degree of distress," he said. "As coalition forces began to approach, she and the vehicle were detonated. She was killed by the explosion of the vehicle, and we do have some combat losses as a result of this. We will provide more information as time goes on."

American special operations forces have been in control of the dam since April 2.

Brooks said coalition forces found a chemical warfare training facility outside Baghdad. They also found a warehouse with containers filled with a suspicious substance. He said experts have taken samples and are testing them.

Coalition air forces continued to hit regime command and control targets, surface-to-surface missile sites, air defenses and any identified military aircraft, he said.

One target was the Iraqi air force headquarters. The buildings are located west of the Tigris River, near the Baghdad/Muthenna airfield. Officials said the strike degraded Iraqi air force capabilities to command and control their air assets. Battle damage assessment is ongoing.

All told, coalition air forces flew more than 1,900 sorties in support of operations April 3. A total of 850 were strike sorties, and 85 percent of those were aimed at Iraqi Republican Guard units.

Defense officials said there were about 450 tanker missions, more than 200 airlift missions and about 100 command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force continued its attack toward Baghdad, destroying remnants of the Baghdad Republican Guard division near Al Kut. News reports indicate that 2,500 Republican Guardsmen surrendered to the Marines. Brooks could not confirm that number, but said that portions of units - not whole units - are surrendering to coalition forces.

Brooks said coalition forces have fought elements of a number of Republican Guard units in the last 24 hours. "At this point it is very difficult to separate one from another," he said.

"We have had a tremendous effect on the organizations we've encountered in the process. We still anticipate that Special Republican Guard forces are operating from within Baghdad or on the outskirts. Some of those we may have encountered near the airport today, with some very uncoordinated small-unit attacks."

The attacks came after coalition forces had taken the airport, "and they were soundly defeated," he said.

Coalition special operations forces in northern Iraq continued concentrated air strikes against regime military forces. "They are maintaining effective control of roads leading into and out of Iraq and between Baghdad and Tikrit," Brooks said. "Special operations forces in key locations throughout the country are positioned to locate regime forces or strategic systems and direct precision fire to destroy them."

The integration of the combat power of all aspects of the coalition "is proving to be devastating to Iraqi forces," Brooks said. That integration is a key component of the plan by Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the CENTCOM commander, he noted. "It's working and we remain on plan to accomplish our objectives." (Courtesy American Forces Press Service)

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