Coalition aircraft pounded Baghdad late today (Thursday) as ground forces close in on the capital city after being slowed by two days of intense sandstorms.
Witnesses in Baghdad say explosions -- some of the largest in recent days -- rocked the city center and key buildings along the Tigris River.
South of Baghdad, battles erupted at the cities of Najaf, Nasiriyah and Samawah with Iraqi forces attacking the two main columns of coalition troops moving towards the capital city.
The latest reports put one column 80 kilometers directly south of Baghdad, and a separate column of U-S Marines no more than 225 kilometers to the southeast.
Iraqi Defense Minster Sultan Hashem Ahmed says he expects Baghdad to be surrounded in the next five to 10 days. But he says the real battle for the city will be on its streets. Iraqi officials say Baghdad will be a graveyard for invading coalition forces.
Meanwhile, the US military has denied reports that Iraq shot down a US attack helicopter today (Thursday).
Also today (Thursday), Iraqi state television aired video of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and reported that he led a meeting of the country's ruling Baath party.