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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 April, 2003, 09:51 GMT 10:51 UK
TV crew 'under fire' in Tikrit
US marines
US forces are preparing to take Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's birthplace
A CNN reporting crew has come under fire after entering the city of Tikrit - the home town of Saddam Hussein that is still not under coalition control.

The crew, including correspondent Brent Sadler, was fired on as they left a checkpoint while driving into the city.

Bodyguards with the television crew returned fire, according to CNN.

The network aired dramatic TV pictures of the journey into Tikrit.

Earlier, the crew had visited what appeared to be an Iraqi army base in northern Tikrit, where they found abandoned military vehicles, but no soldiers.

Under fire

During the shooting, one of CNN's drivers is reported to have suffered a minor head wound, and windows in some of the convoy's seven vehicles were shattered.

Brent Sadler said: "It is the first time in my 25 years as a war correspondent that I have come under such close, deliberate fire.

Saddam Hussein
Many believe Tikrit will be the last stand for Saddam loyalists
"That was a pretty ugly moment."

The CNN team decided to travel into Tikrit, which has a population of 200,000, from the north after setting off from the city of Mosul.

Their initial discovery to the north of Tikrit of destroyed artillery, empty tanks and abandoned equipment suggested the city had been abandoned.

Abandoned positions

In his TV commentary, Sadler declared: "I think Tikrit has fallen without a single shot being fired on the ground."

He also said: "I've not seen one single symbol of authority in the last hour of transmission.

"Where is everybody? Where are the soldiers? Where are the final divisions of the Republican Guard?"

After hearing explosions from the town and seeing people heading out carrying belongings, CNN's security advisers instructed Sadler's convoy to turn back.

But he was later told by civilians he stopped to speak to that there were no regime fighters in the town, and the CNN convoy decided to drive back into Tikrit.

But the TV crew found that there were still Iraqi soldiers in the city when they came under fire.

They turned round and fled the city.

CNN said they were then chased and fired at with small arms.

It is the first time in my 25 years as a war correspondent that I have come under such close, deliberate fire
CNN correspondent Brent Sadler
On Saturday, US Army Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, speaking at a briefing at Central Command, said the military remained focused on the Tikrit area.

The US suspects there are still forces loyal to Saddam's regime in the area.

Tikrit is the ancestral home city of Saddam Hussein's powerful clan and has enormous psychological importance to the regime.

Last stand?

The residents of the town, 165 km north-west of the capital Baghdad, are intensely loyal to the Iraqi leader.

It is home to members of a tight-knit ruling tribe and allied clansmen who have long been part of the regime's innermost circle.

And it was near here that Saddam was born nearly 66 years ago.

Military analysts have long predicted that the Iraqi leader, heavily outgunned by US and UK forces, may opt to make his last stand in Tikrit.

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