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Children Trample Saddam Portrait April 9, 2003, 6:05pm EDT
COALITION SAYS IRAQI REGIME HAS LOST CONTROL OF BAGHDAD

Saddam Hussein's government appeared to have lost control of Baghdad on Wednesday, as celebrations and looting of government facilities spread across parts of the city with no apparent sign of regime officials.

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"Saddam Hussein is now taking his rightful place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed brutal dictators and the Iraqi people are well on their way to freedom," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing.

Speaking to reporters in New York, Iraqi United Nations Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri said "the game is over." When asked what he meant, he responded, "the war."

"My work now is peace," he said. "I hope the Iraqi people will have a happy life."

Responding to Aldouri's comments on Capitol Hill later Wednesday, Rumsfeld said the war was "over" when Saddam refused to heed a U.N. call to disarm, but said that "additional fights" remained on the horizon.

"We had a good day today," Rumsfeld told reporters. "However, it is not over. There is going to be a lot of difficult work left -- dangerous work."

Earlier, Iraqi citizens and U.S. Marines gathered in Baghdad's central Firdos Square, pulling down a 40-foot statue of Saddam Hussein. Iraqis first took after the statue with ropes and sledge hammers and were later joined by Marines using a tank recovery vehicle with a boom and wench apparatus.

Iraqi citizens cheered as they stomped on and tore apart the felled monument and later dragged its detached head through the streets.

ABC television reporters on the scene said that many of those rallying against the regime were Shiite Muslims, a group long-oppressed by Saddam's government. Another report said some Iraqi bystanders did not celebrate, but watched in silence.

The Associated Press reported that most Iraqis seemed jubilant, but a few expressed anger.

"This is the destruction of Islam. After all, Iraq is our country. And what about all the women and children who died in the bombing?" 50-year-old Qassim al-Shamari told an AP correspondent.

In the predominantly Shiite neighborhoods in eastern Baghdad, however, people danced in the streets waving both rifles and palm fronds. The AP said some Iraqi's were defacing images of Saddam found on murals throughout the city and that many Iraqis are openly calling him a criminal.

"At Saddam City, a poor Shiite area that has long been considered a hotbed of anti-Saddam unrest, hundreds of Iraqis cheered American troops. Small bands of youths tore down portraits of Saddam and chanted, 'Bush! Bush! Thank you!'," an AP correspondent on the scene reported.

One elderly man was seen beating a poster of Saddam with his shoe.

"Come see, this is freedom. This is the criminal, this is the infidel," he said. "This is the destiny of every traitor. He killed millions of us."

Television news also broadcast pictures of Iraqis hauling away computers, office furniture, tires, boxes, and even potted plants from government buildings.

The looting and celebrations followed a relatively quiet night in Baghdad. On Tuesday battles had raged in the center of the city, but by Wednesday morning the Iraqi government seemed to have evaporated.

Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, the Iraqi information minister who had continually denied the American presence in sectors of Baghdad, did not show up to brief journalists in the Iraqi capital. Nor did any of the government "minders," assigned to escort and observe reporters.

The U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division continued to move into the city from the west, crossing the Tigris River Wednesday and securing a major intersection on the eastern side of the river. Meanwhile Marines with the 1st Expeditionary Force took control of eastern portions of the city. The two forces were expected to link up Wednesday in the middle of the capital.

Observers in Baghdad said fierce attacks from U.S. forces combined with widespread desertion from the Iraqi army may have contributed to the fall of the city.

"Uniforms, boots and weapons litter the streets and fill fighting positions throughout the city," the AP reported.

Despite apparent military gains, some intense small battles still raged in and around the capital. Marine vehicles were fired on near Baghdad University and sporadic Iraqi sniper and artillery fire was reported throughout the city.

U.S. military officials warned that there may more tough battles in the days ahead.

"All of us have come to expect the absolute worst behavior from this dying regime, so it's important to remember that tough fighting may lie ahead," said Lt. Mark Kitchens, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command. "However, we are heartened by what we are seeing, and feel a sense of warmth that the citizens of Baghdad are taking to the streets to celebrate their freedom."

Reporters in Baghdad said there were some pockets of chaos and disorder city, and many men carrying guns. Military officials have said they want to move quickly to establish order, but they won't be able to stop the immediate looting.

Officials said they will now turn their attention to rooting out pockets of resistance and tracking down fleeing Iraqi leaders. They said they will also focus particularly on Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein and many of his Ba'ath Party associates.

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