BAGHDAD, Iraq March 27 —
Warplanes pounded communication and command facilities Friday in
the most powerful bombardment of the capital in days. Iraq's defense
minister was defiant, insisting the real battle for Baghdad will be
prolonged, painful and street by street.
"The enemy must come inside Baghdad, and that will be its grave,"
Defense Minister Sultan Hashem Ahmed said. "We feel that this war
must be prolonged so the enemy pays a high price."
Hours later shortly after 11 p.m. the air assault delivered one
of the strongest blasts felt in the city in days as allied forces
zeroed in on one of Saddam Hussein's presidential compounds in the
heart of Baghdad. One massive blast sent flames and dense, orange
smoke into the sky.
Powerful explosions continued through the night, with a string of
strong blasts before and after dawn Friday. Aircraft were heard
flying overhead, followed by intermittent bursts of anti-aircraft
fire. The Palestine Hotel, where many reporters are staying, shook
Ahmed told a press conference at a hotel in the capital that
coalition troops would have to fight in the streets to take the city
of 5 million. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, however,
suggested Thursday that American troops might lay siege to the
capital rather than invade, in hopes its citizens will rise up
against the government.
During the night's bombardment, aircraft and Tomahawk missiles
"took out communications and command and control facilities in the
capital city," said Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens, a spokesman at the
command center in Camp As Sayliyah, Doha.
The Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera said Baghdad's main
telephone exchange was hit. Smoke billowed from the area. The night
before, U.S. and British planes bombed a different
telecommunications center, disrupting communications in some parts
of the capital.
Iraq's satellite television channel was cutting in and out after
the strikes. The U.S. forces had hoped to knock out Iraqi television
and radio to disable Iraqi leader Saddam's propaganda outlets.
Also targeted was a building inside the Old Palace presidential
compound on the west bank of the Tigris River, which includes a camp
of the Republican Guard attacked last week.
Other very strong explosions were heard southwest of Baghdad, and
strikes began in the Mosul area in northern Iraq about 10:30
A U.S. military official said strikes were focusing on the
Republican Guard's Hammurabi and Medina divisions, which are arrayed
to the south, west and north of Baghdad. Earlier Thursday, loud
explosions were heard in and around the capital, with witnesses
saying an unknown number of people were killed and injured in an
attack on a housing complex for employees of a weapons-producing
An explosion about 700 yards west of the Information Ministry
sent scores of journalists fleeing. Anti-aircraft guns on the roof
of the ministry opened fire, witnesses said, but there was no word
on damage or casualties.
Iraqi officials, speaking before the late night attacks, said
Thursday that 36 civilians were killed and 215 injured in U.S.
bombing a day earlier.
"They are targeting the human beings in Iraq to decrease their
morale," Iraqi Health Minister Omeed Medhat Mubarak said of the air
attacks. "They are not discriminating, differentiating."
The American military said there was no proof the deaths
Wednesday were caused by U.S. missiles.
When Baghdad residents awoke Thursday to find a two-day sandstorm
replaced by blue skies, it was an ominous sign. The vastly improved
conditions would likely mean an increase in warplanes targeting the
Yet parts of Baghdad resumed life as usual hundreds of shoppers
milling around, streets jammed with traffic. Jomaa al-Qurishi, 29,
was selling newspaper at his usual spot near the east bank of the
The daily bombing of the Iraqi capital, he said, has not changed
"I have been selling newspapers at this spot for 13 years and no
bombs are going to stop me," said al-Qurishi, back on the street
Thursday. "Death comes to you at any time wherever you may be."
Baghdad's defenders rekindled fuel fires intended to obscure
bombing targets, sending clouds of gray smoke drifting across the
The smoke appeared to have little effect on Thursday's
airstrikes. Neither did the fine coat of yellow desert sand that
covered everything from cars to dining tables to books.
Iraqi state television reported Thursday that Saddam chaired a
meeting of the ruling Baath Party, his top aides and his son, Qusai.
No video was show, but it was reported that Saddam and the
leadership urged Iraqi fighters to exploit the "exhaustion" of
Silent video was shown of another meeting of Saddam, Qusai and
other party officials.
|A 155mm Howitzer, seen in this
image from video, fires Thursday, March 27, 2003, as the
coalition artillery barage continues amid a renewed offensive
against Baghdad. (AP
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