By WARSHIPS IFR Special Correspondents
Residual elements of the Republican Guard, Fedayeen militias and Arab volunteers were said to me massing at Saddam's hometown of Tikrit.
The exact whereabouts of the despot were unknown, with some reports claiming he was already in hiding across the border in Syria while others said he was skulking in a bunker beneath a vast presidential palace in Tikrit.
Coalition air power and Special Forces kept the pressure on the remnants of the regime coalescing in the north while in Baghdad remaining resistance came from Arab volunteers and the Fedayeen.
Two US marines were said to have been killed and more than 30 wounded during several skirmishes in the Iraqi capital that included a battle for a mosque in which it was at one point rumoured by some sources Saddam Hussein might be hiding. US military spokesmen at Central Command in Qatar revealed that "regime leaders" had been attempting to meet in the mosque to co-ordinate resistance.
"The fighting in and a round the mosque complex could not be avoided as enemy forces were firing from it," explained US Navy Captain Frank Thorp. Another four US marines were killed when a regime suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint in the city.
With the Adnam Division of the Republican Guard held to be largely intact in the north, the USA was preparing to deploy its terrifying 21,000lbs air-burst bomb, which could, with a single hit, destroy the bulk of enemy troops and equipment.
During a Pentagon briefing Army Major General Stanley McChrystal said that, as of April 10, there were still 10 Iraqi regular army divisions in the north.
"They have not been viewed as combat ready," observed General McChrystal.
He said Coalition air and special operations forces had been targeting the divisions aggressively. He and added: "We judge their capability to have dropped significantly, both from casualties and also from people just leaving the battlefield."
In the north the US Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade was being beefed up, with armour arriving via secured airfields. The US 4th Infantry Division was also expected to begin making its way north from Kuwait.
Meanwhile element of the UK's 'Desert Rats' armoured division have moved north from Basra, now the city is largely secured, to meet units of the US Marines Corps, seeking to clear territory lying between the southern port city and Al Amarah. During a CENTCOM briefing Army Brigadier General Vincent Brooks explained that the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force units had met "minimal resistance" at Al Aamarah, where two Iraqi divisions had been located to defend the city.
He continued: "Those were the 10th and the 14th divisions who had already abandoned their weapons and departed the battlefield, after a period of air attacks, leaflet drops, and also following the liberation of Basra. Coalition forces at this point now occupy the 10th Armored Division headquarters, and will transition into humanitarian assistance and civil military operations in the Al Amarah area."
Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Defence Minister Robert Hill joined senior military officers, friends and family to bid farewell to HMAS Sydney, which left on April 8 bound for the Middle East.
HMAS Sydney (03) will replace the frigates HMAS Anzac (150) and HMAS Darwin (04) in the Gulf, joining the assault ship HMAS Kanimbla (L51) as part of the Australian contribution to the Coalition.
HMAS Sydney is equipped with a Seahawk helicopter and departs after a rigorous training regime to prepare the ship's company for deployment. All personnel will be vaccinated against threats to their health, including anthrax.
Following a traditional farewell ceremony at Fleet Base East, Senator Hill said the Royal Australian Navy had gained a strong reputation with Coalition partners during the Iraq conflict, for tasks such as mine clearance and Naval Gunfire Support (NGS).
HMAS Anzac provided gunfire support to British commandos while HMAS Darwin conducted hundreds of searches of suspect vessels and HMAS Kanimbla provided a command and control platform for Coalition naval forces.
"The Government hopes that the hostilities will be over by the time HMAS Sydney reaches the Gulf in about three weeks," Senator Hill said.
The ship faces some important challenges in the northern end of the Gulf and charged with ensuring a secure maritime environment.
"In rebuilding Iraq, safe shipping will be essential and regrettably there remain those who will seek to disrupt that task, in particular, terrorism remains a constant threat," said Senator Hill.
Senator Hill also acknowledged the sacrifice and support of family and friends of the deploying personnel.
Sailors aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) watched from the carrier's flight-deck as sister ship USS Nimitz (CVN 68) entered the Gulf to relieve the Lincoln and her Carrier Air Wing Fourteen (CVW-14).
The Lincoln has endured a hectic deployment supporting Operations Southern Watch, Northern Watch, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Lincoln set sail for her homeport of Everett, Wash.
The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is the fourth carrier strike group in the Gulf region deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The San Diego-based aircraft Nimitz (CVN 68) is accompanied by USS Chosin (CG 65), USS Princeton (CG 59), USS Benfold (DDG 65), USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60), USS Oldendorf (DD 972) and USS Bridge (AOE 10).
The deployment marks the first time the Nimitz has deployed to the Central Command area since 1997. As the lead ship in her class, Nimitz was the first to conduct a refueling complex overhaul, which required the ship to return to her birthplace of Newport News, Va., for three years in 1998.
Upon completion of the overhaul, Nimitz conducted an interfleet transfer to her new homeport of San Diego. After a brief post-shakedown availability at Naval Air Station, North Island, Nimitz and crew began preparing for deployment.
After moving their Rigid Raider fast boats across the Al-Faw Peninsula, the UK's Royal Marine Commandos have begun aggressive patrols along the Shatt al-Arab waterway. The main aim of the patrols, using five boats in total, containing marines from 40 Commando, is to intercept militia fighters and Arab volunteers seeking to infiltrate the city of Basra from across the waterway from Iran, or coming down from further up country in Iraq.
Hovercraft from the RMs 539 Assault Squadron have also taken part in the sweeps, again carrying heavily-armed Royal Marines.
The CO of 539 ASRM, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Anthony, said of the patrols: "By dominating the waterway we aim to deny the enemy the chance to move men and supplies. Coalition air patrols have seen them moving boats across the river and we will be trying to stop them."
The US Navy's Commander, 6th Fleet Vice Admiral Scott A. Fry visited the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) on April 7, bringing with him the thanks of the fleet and ground troops ashore for the ship's support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"The Special Forces in Iraq need your support," he said. "They think you're doing a fabulous job."
Port calls are a hot topic aboard TR, and Fry said he would get a port call for the carrier as soon as possible.
"But the Mediterranean that we knew in January and I have known for 32 years is a lot different than the Med we have today," Fry said.
Admiral Fry also answered questions from sailors about when the Roosevelt might go home.
"When this is done, I'll send you home," he said. "But I don't know when that will be, and I don't want to send you home until you're done."
The Admiral added later: "No ship has contributed more to free the Iraqis from terrorism than the TR. Thank you for what you have done and will do."