BAGHDAD, Iraq March 22 —
Intermittent explosions were heard throughout the day Saturday as
workmen swept glass from the streets after two days of fierce
bombardments that destroyed presidential palaces, government offices
and military headquarters.
But as the day wore on, Iraqis were back in the streets in
greater numbers than they had been since the start of the war. Small
shops and restaurants reopened.
Toward evening Saturday two more explosions rattled the city and
there was a dark plume of smoke rising southwest of the city
A massive explosion had rocked the center of Iraq's capital early
Saturday just hours after Saddam Hussein's Old Palace was demolished
by coalition airstrikes. Aircraft could be heard overhead and smoke
and the sound of sirens rose from the city, thought it was unclear
what had been targeted.
Elsewhere, U.S. aircraft bombed Iraqi tanks holding bridges near
Basra, the country's second-largest city. American officials said
Saddam's regime was clearly losing control.
In Baghdad, Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf
addressed the Iraqi people Saturday, assuring them that the
government remained in power and had repulsed the U.S.-British
attacks, destroying five tanks in the process. He also said those
captives taken by coalition troops were civilians, not Iraqi
"Baghdad will remain with its head held high," Al-Sahhaf said.
"The Baghdad of Saddam will remain defiant."
Al-Sahhaf said 19 missiles had been fired upon a small area of
Baghdad, injuring more than 200, mostly civilians.
The blast at first light ended an eerie quiet that had fallen
over Baghdad after a ferocious attack filled the sky with towering
fireballs Friday night. Tomahawk missiles began to rain down just
after 9 p.m. and air raid sirens squealed. Two Iraqi palaces and the
intelligence headquarters were among the buildings destroyed.
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said the intelligence
facility was struck by a Tomahawk fired from a British
Allied ships in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea fired 320 Tomahawks
in the strike the third and largest since the war began.
The attack apparently was coordinated to occur simultaneously
with strikes on two other cities, Mosul and Kirkuk in the north and
Basra and Nassiriyah in the south.
The leader of one of the missions said a 30-plane strike force
encountered no resistance from the air or ground during their
six-hour mission. Commander Anthony Gaiani, aboard the USS Theodore
Roosevelt, one of two carriers in the eastern Mediterranean,
identified the complex as Ar Ramadi, on the Euphrates River, and
said it consisted of two large palaces.
"I really had thought that based on the type of target and the
proximity to Baghdad they would put up more of a fight," he
Three other carriers and their complement of cruisers and
destroyers are launching similar strikes from the Persian Gulf
The air barrage came with U.S. ground troops already a third of
the way to Baghdad, and with Saddam and his regime fighting to
demonstrate their control of the country despite reports of
surrendering Iraqi troops and the loss of strategic sites.
After the early morning blast Saturday, traffic returned to the
streets of Baghdad, and workmen swept glass from the sidewalks
around the badly damaged main presidential compound.
A hole the size of two ping-pong tables had been blown in the
dome of the Peace Palace, though four busts of Saddam still stood on
the corners of the building. The intelligence headquarters was
gutted and appeared to have taken a direct hit. Bricks, masonry and
glass were strewn across the street in the al-Salhiya
Friday night's spectacular blasts lit up the horizon,
illuminating Baghdad even as they devastated parts of the city of 5
million people. Iraqi anti-aircraft bursts winked in the darkness.
At one point, the sound of a missile roared through a street before
exploding into a fireball.
Hoon said the attacks on the Iraqi capital were carefully
calibrated not to damage civilian targets or city
"The lights stayed on in Baghdad, but the instruments of tyranny
are collapsing," Hoon said.
Three major fires raged inside Saddam's Old Palace compound,
which stretches for 1.7 miles on the west bank of the Tigris River.
The compound is the official center of the Iraqi state, and home to
the offices of the prime minister's staff, the Cabinet and a
Republican Guard camp.
Its turqoise-domed main building appeared untouched. But a
building next to the palace was on fire, and black smoke billowed
from a 10-story building in another part of the compound.
Despite the apparent setbacks, Saddam's regime was taking a hard
line denying military setbacks and verbally attacking its enemies in
a show of public resolve. Al-Sahhaf lashed out at the Allies early
"They are a gang of war criminals ... international bastards," he
said. "They lie day and night. They are not human."
|In this image taken from video,
an explosion is seen in Baghdad, Iraq during the US-led air
campaign against the Iraqi capital Friday evening, March 21,
2003. (AP Photo/Abu-Dhabi TV, VIA
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