AMERICAN troops were said today to have seized Baghdad's airport after bitter overnight fighting.

A US intelligence officer at the scene said that American ground forces had seized "probably 80 per cent" of the large airport site, but stressed that every room in every building would have to be checked before it could be called fully secure.

Hundreds of Iraqi troops had apparently been killed during the fighting.

There was some confusion over the exact situation at the Saddam Hussein International Airport, with reports being filed from the tarmac showing US soldiers in position, though its capture was not immediately confirmed by senior commanders.

There were also reports of Iraqi reinforcements being rushed towards the airport from Baghdad itself. The Iraqi authorities had yesterday taken western reporters to the airport to show it remained in their hands, but today turned one back when he tried to go there.

During a night of further air raids on Baghdad itself, there were reports of 100 explosions from the direction of the airport. The capital itself was rocked by 16 large explosions, and US commanders said they had hit a presidential compound and an air force headquarters building.

The Iraqis claimed they had captured five US tanks near the airport and that 83 people were killed and 120 injured in an American rocket attack on a nearby village.

The Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, said the battle to control Baghdad itself would be huge and costly, saying they would use their cities the way the Vietnamese had used their jungles to resist the Americans.

But the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Richard Myers, said they may isolate Baghdad rather than storming the capital, and even set up a new government in Iraq while leaving Saddam Hussein and his followers inside the city.

He also warned against assuming the war would soon be all over.

Updated: 08:50 Friday, April 04, 2003