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Troops search for Presidential bunker

By Atul Aneja

British soldiers advance towards central Basra on Monday. British and coalition forces took control of Iraq's second city after two weeks of heavy fighting leading to widespread looting as Iraqi forces retreated. — AFP

AS SAYLIAH (Qatar) April 7. In seizing one of the palaces of the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, in Baghdad this morning, U.S. forces appear to be looking for an entrance to a key underground Presidential bunker.

In his daily briefing, the spokesperson of the U.S. Central Command, Vincent Brooks, said that by raiding palaces, the forces were seeking "regime leaders" and searching for "command and control" nodes. It now appears that some of Mr. Hussein's palaces lead to fortified "command and control" facilities through an intricate network of tunnels. Not surprisingly, Gen. Brooks, said that the forces were aware of the existence of a network of tunnels in Baghdad that were "large enough to accommodate automobiles."

Highly-placed sources say that the forces, which took over Baghdad's international airport, discovered on Saturday a passage that leads out of the guest lounge and links up with an elaborate network of tunnels. It is suspected that some of these tunnels feed into an underground command post, to which only the Iraqi leadership and top military commanders have access. However, the forces entering this tunnel maze from the airport side are yet to make much headway.

The incursion this morning by the U.S. Third Mechanised Division from the Dora district, south of Baghdad, into what has been called the Northern Palace was therefore, it appears, meant to find the second entrance to this underground command facility. The Special Forces belonging to the 101st Airborne division who were looking for this ingress suspect that the Iraqi underground post,

connected by an interlocking system of tunnels, could be located several kilometres away.

Analysts point out that in seeking the underground bunker, the U.S. wants to paralyse the Iraqi regime by denying it the capability to communicate with its combat troops. By disabling the Iraqi leadership, the forces fancy their chances of avoiding the forcible occupation of Baghdad — a city of five million people. According to Gen. Brooks, U.S. troops were targeting the residual capability of the Iraqi leadership to command its forces.

He also indicated that the troops were still not in full control of the eastern flank of Baghdad and more fighting lay ahead. Despite their exertions, the Anglo-American forces were yet to find any mass destruction weaponry, he said.

Signalling that preparations for a political transition in Iraq were already underway, Gen. Brooks said U.S. forces were in active contact with the Iraqi opposition.

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