WASHINGTON - U.S. and British forces have largely destroyed the capacity of the Iraqi military to mount organized resistance in more than a dozen cities, yet huge expanses of Iraq remain outside allied control.
In addition to Baghdad, where fierce firefights continue, allied forces have yet to seize much of thinly populated western and northern Iraq or the area around Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit - the only region that appears to have enough intact military units to put up a meaningful fight.
Coalition troops have taken control of the previously disputed cities of Basra, Najaf, Nasiriyah and Karbala, and have partial control in a dozen cities along their 300-plus-mile supply line to the south.
Commanders hope that dominance over ever-larger areas of the capital will push Iraqis to the "tipping point" - convincing them to give up the fight and clearing the way for U.S. ground forces to make a final push through Hussein's stronghold and the cities of the north.
Even so, allied forces continue sporadic battles in small towns of the Tigris and Euphrates valley south of Baghdad. And they face the tough task of rooting out remaining regime loyalists who they fear could join up with Islamic fundamentalists from abroad to wage continuing guerrilla battles against coalition forces.
With only about 125,000 U.S. troops in a country the size of California, coalition forces say they are not seeking to control every hamlet or capture every enemy fighter. Rather, they will consider the campaign victorious when they have crushed the largest pockets of resistance, making it safe for U.S. troops to move through the country and allowing life to return more or less to normal.
Also Tuesday, the United States declared air supremacy over all of Iraq on Tuesday, asserting its warplanes can fly anywhere with impunity, even though an Air Force attack plane was shot down near Baghdad.
Until now the Pentagon had said it owned the skies over all of Iraq except in the Baghdad area and over Tikrit.
"Coalition air forces have established air supremacy over the entire country, which means the enemy is incapable of effective interference with coalition air operations," said Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff.Central Iraq
BAGHDAD: American tanks fired from downtown bridges spanning the Tigris River on Tuesday as Apache helicopters circled tightly and then decimated part of an Iraqi military camp in a burst of smoke and dust.
U.S. forces displayed grim force and deft coordination in asserting the first real control over vast parts of the city. It was the most intense fighting in central Baghdad yet.
Iraqi forces staged a major counterattack, sending buses and trucks full of fighters across the Tigris River in a failed attempt to overrun U.S. forces holding a strategic intersection on the western side of Baghdad.
At least 50 Iraqi fighters were killed, said Capt. Philip Wolford a company commander with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. Two U.S. soldiers were reported wounded, one seriously, by rooftop snipers later targeted by coalition air support.
U.S. troops strafed the Iraqis from A-10 Warthog attack planes and opened up with artillery and mortar fire. About an hour after the firefight began, Wolford moved his tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles forward again, retook the intersection and began pursuing the remaining Iraqi defenders.
The fighting was escalated by a U.S. decision not to destroy bridges across the Tigris, allowing the Iraqis easy access to cross the river, said Col. David Perkins of the 3rd Infantry. The U.S. troops control of most of the Tigris' west bank, Perkins said.
HILLA: The 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division on Tuesday squeezed Hilla, the last contested city south of Baghdad, with three infantry battalions from the west and another from the south, supported by tanks, jet fighters, helicopters and nearly 50 howitzers.Northern Iraq
SULAYMANIYAH, Iraq - Kurdish forces tightened their ring around the key oil center of Kirkuk to advance within sight of the city Tuesday after heavy coalition airstrikes on front-line Iraqi positions.
The Kurdish militia took control of the strategic Sekamian plateau, about 6 miles north of Kirkuk, the center of Iraq's No. 2 oil region, Kurdish media reported.Southern Iraq
AMARA, Iraq - Iraqi resistance in this town 30 miles from Iran border appeared on Tuesday to have collapsed, and U.S. forces encircled it firing only two shots.
Task Force Tarawa, a collection of U.S. Marine units, came here on Tuesday to engage the Iraqi army's 10th Armored Division, which had been bypassed by allied ground forces. But when the Americans crossed the Tigris River on Tuesday afternoon, they discovered that the Iraqi fighters had fled.
- Information from the Los Angeles Times, Cox News Service, the Washington Post and the Associated Press was used in this report.[Last modified April 18, 2003, 13:36:44]