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ARLINGTON, Va. — With “close to a brigade now in Baghdad” — 3,000 to 5,000 troops — U.S. forces are increasingly in control of the city, a senior military official said Tuesday.

U.S. Army troops now control Baghdad’s international airports and most of the west bank of the Tigris River, which divides the city, while Marines are advancing from the east. As Tuesday evening approached, Americans were increasingly penetrating into Baghdad’s heart, continuing to establish footholds in major Baath Party buildings, including one of Saddam Hussein’s largest palace complexes.

“We’ve been at this three or four nights, and we’re sitting at the center of the city with almost an armor brigade now,” Stanley A. McChrystal, vice director for Operations on the Joint Staff, said. “They are spending the nights wherever they want to. … We have essentially isolated the capital.”

McChrystal called the troops’ progress “extraordinary.”

But he warned that although the Republican Guard appears decimated, other units remaining in Baghdad are likely to cause some serious problems for U.S. troops — particularly Saddam’s vaunted Special Republican Guard.

“We still believe [the Special Republican Guard] exists, and that it is operating inside Baghdad,” McChrystal said.

Often regarded as some sort of elite subgroup of the Republican Guard, the Special Republican Guard is in fact a completely separate organization, according to the Web site GlobalSecurity.org, which tracks intelligence collected on Saddam’s forces.

Often called the “Golden Guard,” the organization is charged with the safety of Saddam both in Baghdad and while he travels, along with other key regime leaders and their families.

In 2002, intelligence analysts believed there were 12,000 SRG troops, organized into as many as 14 battalions including armor, air defense, and artillery units.

The group “has the potential for some sharp fights” with American forces, McChrystal said. “But the extent of their strategy is unclear.”


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