GUNFIRE was reported in Baghdad as dawn broke today, with US forces looking set to continue strengthening their grip on the Iraqi capital today.

Although some reports said the night in Baghdad had been relatively quiet, it was also said that American troops had met sporadic but fierce resistance as they sought to extend their control.

US marines were said to have moved into a densely-populated part of eastern Baghdad, heading after 500 Republican Guard members believed to be on their way there.

American troops were also said to have established a blocking position north of the city centre, and to have taken the Rashid air base in central Baghdad.

They were also applying pressure in the area of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's birthplace, to prevent forces loyal to him heading there to regroup.

A report has quoted British security sources in stating that Saddam escaped "by minutes" a targeted bombing raid on a building on the al-Mansour district of Baghdad, where he was thought to be attending a meeting. The same report said Saddam could no longer command or control his forces.

British forces appear set to today (wed) start dealing the widespread looting which has been taking place in Iraq's second city, Basra.

Two US airmen are missing after their plane went down in Iraq on Sunday.

Arab countries are to ask the UN General Assembly to hold a special meting to call for a ceasefire in Iraq.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is to meet his French counterpart, Dominique de Villepin, to discuss Iraq. France, Germany and Russia are planning their own summit on Iraq.

Updated: 08:43 Wednesday, April 09, 2003