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March 29, 2003

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The Associated Press

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BAGHDAD, Iraq March 29

Wailing and sobbing, black-clad mourners gathered Saturday for a funeral procession amid the wreckage of a Baghdad marketplace where Iraqi officials say dozens of civilians died in a coalition bombing.

Elsewhere, Iraq's Information Ministry building was damaged but not destroyed in a pre-dawn U.S. missile attack. Planes were heard over the capital, drawing anti-aircraft fire, and the blazes started by authorities to conceal targets seemed to be burning furiously, sending darker-than-usual clouds over the city on an otherwise clear day.

At the Al-Nasr market in the working-class district of al-Shoala, crowds of mourners wailed amid bloodstains and piles of wreckage. Blood-soaked children's slippers sat on the street not far from a crater blasted into the ground.

At the scene of the Friday bombing, women in black chadors were sobbing outside homes where some of the victims lived. Men cried and hugged each other as a funeral procession passed through the market.

Down the road, residents gathered at a Shiite Muslim mosque, crowded around seven wooden coffins draped in blankets. Some of the men stood silently. Others sobbed into trembling hands. In the background, women cried, "Oh God! Oh God!"

Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf had said earlier that 58 people were killed and many others wounded in the explosion at the market Friday evening. There were conflicting reports, however, on the number of casualties.

Haqi Ismail Razouq, director of al-Nour Hospital, where the dead and injured were taken, put the death toll at 30 and the number of injured at 47; surgeon Issa Ali Ilwan said 47 were killed and 50 injured. Witnesses said they counted as many as 50 bodies.

There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.

Witnesses said the bombing took place around 6 p.m., when the market was at its busiest. They said they saw an aircraft flying high overhead just before the blast.

"Why do they make mistakes like these if they have the technology?" asked Abdel-Hadi Adai, who said he lost his 27-year-old brother-in-law. "There are no military installations anywhere near here."

The U.S. Central Command in Qatar, which has denied that coalition forces target civilian neighborhoods, said it was looking into the incident.

Iraqi officials also have blamed U.S. forces for explosions at another market that killed 14 people Wednesday. U.S. officials suggested that blast might have been caused by an errant Iraqi surface-to-air missile, or even staged deliberately by Iraqi authorities seeking to discredit the United States.

Elsewhere Saturday, the Information Ministry remained standing and did not appear to have suffered any structural damage after a Tomahawk cruise missile attack that the U.S. military command said was aimed at the ministry building. But many of the satellite dishes on the roof used by foreign TV crews were damaged, and glass from broken windows was strewn in the hallways.

Many of the foreign TV reporters still in Baghdad have been working from a parking area opposite the ministry for fear of an attack on the building. In anticipation of a bombing, ministry workers moved computers, printers, TVs and video editing equipment into warehouses.

Sahhaf told reporters on Saturday that 68 people were killed and 107 wounded in Baghdad alone between Friday evening and Saturday morning. In addition, 74 people were killed and 244 wounded across the rest of the country, he said.

"These are cowardly air raids," he told Lebanon's Al-Hayat LBC satellite television.

In one incident, Sahhaf said coalition forces fired a cluster bomb at an ambulance carrying a wounded man to hospital. The wounded man, the driver and a nurse were killed.

"We thank the superpower (America) and we congratulate this hated (Tony) Blair. Now they are bombing ambulances," he said. "We are encouraging several groups, lawyers, professors of international law in order to present a lawsuit against those war criminals."

Iraqi state television, meanwhile, said three Iraqis had been arrested for spying for the United States, alleging they were assigned to inspect areas of Baghdad that had been attacked to determine if they needed to be hit again.

The report identified the men as Ibrahim Abdel Qader, Ghareeb Ahmed Hamadeh and Hussein Shahed. Qader was quoted as saying he was given about two pounds of TNT from "foreigners Americans," and Shahed said he was recruited by an American he identified as "Gen. Mike" who was from the CIA.

photo credit and caption:
Relatives of Mohammed Jaber Hassan weep at the Mohammed Sakran cemetery outside Baghdad Saturday March 29, 2003. Hassan, 22, died late Thursday when a bomb fell on a busy Baghdad market, killing 52 and wounding scores. Over 15 victims were buried at the same time. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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