US troops staged a foray into Baghdad for the first time yesterday, taking the 17-day-old war to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein right into his battered capital.
In a message read on television by one of his ministers, the Iraqi president urged his armed forces and people to step up attacks on the US and British invasion forces.
"The criminals will be humiliated," the message said. "To hurt the enemy more, raise the level of your attacks."
Iraq denied any US forces were in Baghdad and said its troops had driven the Americans from the international airport -- a claim that a US military spokesman said was groundless.
US military sources said at least 20 Abrams tanks and 10 Bradley fighting vehicles had rumbled up a southern highway through Baghdad's Dawra suburb before swinging west and linking up with troops at the airport southwest of the city center.
A correspondent who drove freely around the sprawling city of 5 million later in the day saw no sign of US forces.
US Major-General Victor Renuart said the incursion had been a "clear statement of the ability of the coalition forces to move into Baghdad at times and places of their choosing."
He told a news conference in Qatar such operations would continue, adding: "This fight is far from over."
Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, reading a message he said was from Saddam, said invasion forces were concentrating on Baghdad, but weakening elsewhere in Iraq.
"Everything is OK," he said, listing what he said were a series of Iraqi successes.
Iraqi television showed footage on Friday of a smiling Saddam touring Baghdad streets, greeting admirers as smoke rose in the distance. It was not clear exactly when the footage was shot.
* US says troops can move into Baghdad freely; Iraq says ``everything okay'' in capital
* Witness says no US troops visible in central, southern Baghdad
* US Marine says suicide bomber attacks US troops at Baghdad airport, US general at Central Command says not aware of the attack
* Iraq says it has retaken airport killing ``hundreds'' of US troops; US says Iraqi claims ``groundless,'' says at least one runway functioning soon
Renuart said he did not know if the man shown was Saddam and described the question as irrelevant.
"The objective is to end the regime in Iraq and we'll continue with that," he said.
As US units operated in Baghdad, other troops protected their rear with a ground and air assault on the Shiite Muslim shrine city of Kerbala, 110km to the southwest.
In the north, US forces moved from Kurdish-held territory toward Iraqi lines defending the oil city of Mosul, after a day of US air strikes on the area, a witness said.
The US foray into Baghdad met resistance described by one spokesman as sporadic.
"There were firefights, but if you're one of those folks who were involved in that firefight on the ground, it was pretty intense," Captain Frank Thorp said.
Four US soldiers were wounded, one of them shot in the head, and an Iraqi general was captured, US sources said.
Rocket-propelled grenades damaged one US tank. A second had to be abandoned in Baghdad because of mechanical failure.
US forces called in air support to attack Iraqi tanks on the northern edge of the airport, military sources said.
The Americans said they had won control of the airport, 20km from the city center, on Friday. They say they hold the runway, but not all outlying areas.
An Iraqi military spokesman said hundreds of US troops had been killed in the airport fighting.
A US Marine gunnery sergeant said yesterday his unit had been told there had been a suicide bombing at the airport.
"The last order we just got said there was another suicide bombing at the airport, so be especially vigilant at roadblocks," Mark Woodward said.