— By Hassan Hafidh
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - At least five huge explosions rocked central
Baghdad late on Monday, with two coming from the area of a
presidential complex used by President Saddam Hussein, his son Qusay
and aides, Reuter witnesses said.
"A big, big, big cloud of smoke is coming out of the compound.
Maybe they are using bigger bombs than before," Reuters
correspondent Samia Nakhoul said. The sprawling complex had been hit
more than once earlier in a day of sustained air attacks.
Flames could be seen rising into the night from one of the other
blasts which rocked the central Palestine Hotel.
"It is very frightening. There is a lot of panic. I can hear
people shouting and screaming in the street below" the hotel, she
Anti-aircraft fire was heard just before the explosions.
Another explosion came from the headquarters of the Iraqi Olympic
Committee, headed by Saddam's eldest son Uday.
"It is on fire. It's a huge fire," Reuters correspondent Khaled
Yacoub Oweis said.
The building stands next to the Martyrs' Memorial, a stunning
monument in blue marble of two half domes facing each other, built
in memory of the thousands of Iraqi soldiers who died in the
1980-1988 war with Iran.
A telephone exchange in Alwiyah, about one mile from the hotel,
was also hit, a Reuters witness said.
The attacks followed a day of repeated air raids on this city of
over five million people, targeting key government buildings in the
city center and positions on the outskirts of the Iraqi capital.
Nakhoul said earlier that U.S. or British warplanes had screamed
low over the center of the city.
To the south, an intense artillery barrage could be heard during
the afternoon. Reuters correspondent Nadim Ladki said the sound of
explosions also seemed to be coming from the west of the city, from
the direction of Saddam International Airport. On the 12th day of
the war, U.S. combat units closed to within 50 miles south of
Baghdad, battling Republican Guards and other Iraqi units for a
bridge over the Euphrates river at Hindiya, between Kerbala and
A blast in the palace complex on Monday afternoon sent white
smoke spewing into the sky. The compound on the west bank of the
river Tigris was also targeted on Sunday and was hit by several
missiles in the first days of the U.S.-led war to overthrow Saddam,
which started on March 20.
Raids on Monday also struck Baghdad's Information Ministry and at
least two telephone exchanges. A cruise missile hit the roof of the
Information Ministry overnight, smashing glass panels and damaging
A Reuters reporter who visited the scene was not allowed to go
inside the building to survey further damage.
Domestic state television, used by Saddam to address the nation,
was off the air in the morning, but broadcasts resumed after midday,
four hours later than usual.
A source at the ministry said the disruption was probably caused
by bomb damage. Iraq's international satellite channel kept
broadcasting while the domestic channel was off the air.
It was the second attack in three days on Iraq's official
information headquarters. The overnight blasts also triggered a fire
near the ministry complex. Smoke and dust billowed high into the sky
and firefighters rushed to douse the blaze.
The raids also scored two direct hits on the city center
telephone exchange, flattening the six-story building and leaving it
a heap of rubble and twisted metal. The exchange was also bombed in
the 1991 Gulf War and later rebuilt.
The hit brings to seven the number of exchanges knocked out in
the bombings. There are about 20 exchanges in Baghdad, but making a
telephone call is already almost impossible without resort to
U.S.-led forces also mounted a sustained series of bombings on
the city outskirts where Republican Guard units are believed to be
dug in to defend the capital.
Air raids have increased in intensity over the past 48 hours.
U.S. Central Command said on Monday that the overnight air raids had
been conducted by B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers in what it called a
"historic bomber package" -- the first time the three had been used
to strike the same area at the same time. Iraqis said a missile
crashed into a farm at the weekend in the village of al-Madeen,
around 13 miles southeast of Baghdad, killing 17 civilians and
Reuters reporters who went to the village saw five demolished
houses, and the bodies of dead livestock. Some electricity pylons
had also been toppled.
Iraq says 62 people were killed and 49 wounded in a devastating
explosion in a crowded Baghdad market last Friday which it blames on
a U.S. attack.
The United States is still checking whether its forces were
responsible. U.S. officials have suggested that a previous blast in
a separate Baghdad market might have been caused by an Iraqi
anti-aircraft missile crashing back to earth.
|A pre-strike and post-strike
photograph of Baghdad state-controlled TV Studio and
broadcasting facility shown during a briefing in Qatar, March
30, 2003. An intense artillery barrage opened up on Baghdad's
southern outskirts on March 31 as warplanes from the U.S.-led
invasion force screamed low over the Iraqi capital and
anti-aircraft fire crackled in the sky. "The artillery fire is
suddenly very intense. We can hear it coming from the south.
It's unusual," said Reuters correspondent Samia Nakhoul. Photo
by Reuters (Handout)|
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