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March 20, 2003
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Second Wave of Air Strikes Slam Baghdad
Second Wave of Air Strikes Pound Baghdad, Leaving Ministry of Planning in Flames

The Associated Press

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BAGHDAD, Iraq March 20

For the second time in a day, U.S. forces launched precision strikes on Iraq's capital city Thursday, leaving its ministry of planning in flames and Saddam Hussein's loyalists wondering when a promised full-scale blitz would begin.

The night sky crackled with flashing light and anti-aircraft fire, reminiscent of the 1991 war under a different Bush administration, as the Tomahawk cruise missiles began dropping on Baghdad once again.

But instead of widespread bombardment, specific targets the main presidential palace and the ministry building were struck by the second wave of U.S. missiles. The two buildings were hit almost simultaneously in a day bookended by morning and evening attacks.

There was no immediate word of casualties; the first attack killed one and injured 14, the International Red Cross confirmed.

"Bush, Bush, listen carefully," said Hamad Abdullah, one of six family members hospitalized with shrapnel wounds. "We all love Saddam Hussein."

A witness reported seeing anti-aircraft artillery on the roof of the ministry building, which was burning as emergency vehicles rushed to the scene.

The fire was visible from across the river on the east bank of the Tigris.

On a cool, breezy Baghdad night, a thick plume of black smoke climbed into the sky, which was occasionally illuminated by red flares or tracer fire.

The presidential palace sits on the west side of the Tigris River, inside a vast area that stands as the official seat of power in Iraq but is rarely used by Saddam. The Iraqi leader has access to dozens of palaces.

Three distinct locations in the center of Baghdad were smoking after apparently being bombed.

Reports circulating Thursday night suggested that a 10-story office building damaged in the attack belonged to Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, a powerful figure in Saddam's regime and a stalwart of his ruling Baath party who often speaks for the Iraqi leader.

Other thunderous detonations resounded from the area of the airport before the all-clear siren sounded, leaving an eerie quiet cut only by the roar of generators.

As dusk fell Thursday, many of those left in Baghdad ordinarily a city of 5 million abandoned its normally bustling streets for the safety of their homes, shelters or the countryside, anticipating night attacks.

By 7:30 p.m., there was hardly anyone on the streets and only a few cars speeding off. Within 90 minutes, the squawk of air raid sirens filled the air and the second attack was under way.

Although longer in duration than the barrage that launched the war hours earlier, the bombing lasted barely 15 minutes, hardly on the scale of the 1991 bombings.

The blast of the air raid sirens resumed once again later, but there was no further attack. F-14 and F-18 jets armed with missiles and bombs took off from the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the eastern Mediterranean; their targets were unknown.

Pentagon officials have described their war strategy as "shock and awe," saying they planned to drop 10 times the bombs in the opening days of the air campaign in Iraq than they did in the first Gulf war.

Hundreds of armed members of Saddam's Baath party were hunkered down in the capital, waiting for the United States to unleash its full might, but there was no indication of when that might happen.

On Iraq Radio, a spokesman said that the first attack of the war had targeted Saddam's family home, as well as the homes of his three daughters. The spokesman condemned "the missiles of the reckless criminal Bush and his lackeys."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that first attack had targeted an Iraqi leadership compound, and that U.S. officials had "very good intelligence" about the site.

Baghdad was last bombed in December 1998, when U.S. missiles hit military targets around the city to punish Iraq for blocking U.N. weapons inspectors.

photo credit and caption:
Smoke and flames appear in the sky over Baghdad following an explosion, Thursday, March 20, 2003. Explosions could be heard in Baghdad coming from an area where Saddam Husseins's palaces and intelligence headquarters are located. The second round of U.S.-led air attacks was launched Thursday night, but U.S. military officials said the assault was not the beginning of the massive air campaign the Pentagon has planned. (AP Photo/APTN)

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

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