Tip of the Spear: The Road to Baghdad

Ted Koppel, embedded with the 3rd Infantry Division, continues his account of the troops' push to Baghdad.

April 2, 12:30 p.m.: 25 miles to Baghdad

The armor was bound for a dot on the map, code-named "Objective Peach."

A tank company begins its move to take a bridge that crosses the Euphrates River.

I had just begun to interview the tank commander when a private vehicle appeared, driving toward the tank.

"We couldn't tell if it was military, civilian, at the time from the front. It was on his way coming at us, pretty fast. We waved our arms at it. I did my best to get their attention, tried to get them to stop. However, he wasn't gonna stop," said 1st Lt. James Temple.

They popped a warning blast at him with a machine gun, and probably blew out his radiator. The man got out of the van, and yelled at Temple.

"It's pretty risky out here right now. I don't know what this guy's doing out there. There's a lot of people dressed up as civilians, you know, that are actually military," Temple said.

Armies at war are, at best, blunt instruments of policy. The young tank commander did exactly what he has been ordered to do. We will never know what the driver wanted or needed, but four U.S. soldiers died the other day because they waited to hear what the driver of a taxi had to say. He was a suicide bomber.

April 3, 6:28 a.m.: East of the Euphrates, 23 miles from Baghdad

We're going on a month with no showers and we're going on two weeks plus of wearing these same things.

In the distance is the town that looks quite peaceful and tropical, which it isn't, our executive producer Leroy Sievers noted.

As we approached Baghdad, small villages gave way to a good-sized town. There, for the first time, there appeared to be some genuine enthusiasm for the armored column rolling its way toward its next confrontation. Although a colleague for the Reuters news agency reported a gun battle in just such a town, indeed, it may have been this town, an hour or two after we passed through.

Throughout the planning stages of this war, the CIA has been predicting Shiite uprisings against Saddam's regime as soon as U.S. ground forces crossed into Iraq. There has been no uprising. That is what is most worrisome to commanders in the field.

April 3, 6 p.m.: Approaching Baghdad

About eight miles from Saddam International Airport, just about sunset, the armored column reached a superhighway, three lanes on either side of the divide.

As dusk settled in, the firing began. Most of it outgoing. Artillery, rockets, .50-caliber machine guns going out. Rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, small arms, and even an occasional anti-aircraft shell coming in.

Fire blossomed on either side of the road. Smoke billowed across the highway. A vehicle careening down the other side of the highway was riddled with machine-gun fire. Tracer bullets and multiple launch rockets streaked across the black sky.

Advance elements of the 3rd Division took the airport as our segment of the convoy stopped and started in their wake. By the time we reached the outer perimeter of the airport, the tanks, in particular, were low on fuel, and commanders were reluctant to risk combat. We stopped and waited in the dark until first light.

April 4: Saddam International Airport, 12 Miles to Baghdad

The battle for Baghdad's main airport was relatively brief, but intense.

"It's under our control, we still have a few buildings left to clear, but nobody's getting in and nobody's getting out without surrendering," said Col. Grimsley, who led the assault.

Maj. Gen. Blount, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, admitted surprise at how quickly the airport fell.

"I'm thrilled. Our soldiers' performance is outstanding. They've come a long distance in a short period of time. We've had a lot of different fights and with minimal casualties. So I'm very, very pleased with the performance of our great soldiers. I think they could all use a shower and a bath, a hot meal."

U.S. troops now occupy a central lounge where those summoned to meet with Saddam Hussein could wait, and a conference room where they could meet. And if for some reason if Saddam needed to wait, there is a small but comfortable bedroom, a golden sink in the bathroom, a television, a VCR, a pair of slippers tucked discreetly under the bed.

It is, in a manner of speaking, the ultimate airport VIP lounge. More accurately perhaps, a villa, tucked into a bower of palm trees and rose gardens.

Sporadically, the fighting goes on. There are few, if any, Iraqi soldiers left on this vast sprawling air base. But their vehicles are still burning in places. Thick black smoke continues to pour from the ammunition dumps that were blown.

April 5, 7 a.m.: Highway 8 to Baghdad

The Iraqi government denies this ever happened. But elements of the 3rd Division rolled into Baghdad just to demonstrate that they could now do so at will.

U.S. forces faced opposition almost the entire way. It was a frightening experience for the troops.

"It was very harried and tense, very scared," said one soldier.

"It was hot and heavy. It was scary," said another.

One tank was disabled, one American soldier was killed.

April 7: — Baghdad

And finally, Monday, April 7, we are traveling on Highway 8, one of the main north-south routes into and out of Baghdad.

The sides of the road are littered with the burning and charred wreckages of Iraqi vehicles that somehow tried to impede the 3rd Division's drive into Baghdad. For the most part they have failed.

Elements of the 2nd Brigade took one of Saddam's palaces in the heart of Baghdad today, and for extra symbolic value, they blew up one of his statues.

It's been quite a trip and quite a day, and now the U.S. Army is ensconced in the heart of Baghdad.

For Part 1 of Ted Koppel's report on the push to Baghdad, click here.