More explosions in Baghdad; Iraqi government claims battle successes |

More explosions in Baghdad; Iraqi government claims battle successes

Associated Press Writer
U.S. soldiers of 3/4 Lima company, 1st Platoon, tries to secure a farming area while smoke from burning oil pipelines are seen in the background near the southern Iraqi city of Basra, Saturday, March 22, 2003. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Strong explosions shook the Iraqi capital after sunset Saturday, the latest in the daily dose of aerial bombardment by U.S.-led forces. The Iraqi regime asserted battle successes and maintained Saddam Hussein and his sons had “the aggression” in hand.

Thunderous blasts struck Baghdad throughout Saturday, sending towering columns of smoke into the air. Warplanes could be heard overhead for a second straight day, but the targets were unclear.

About 20 huge columns of smoke were visible on the southern edge of the city. Arab television stations said these were set by the Iraqis to confuse attacking planes and mask targets.

Iraqi state television – in an effort to show that the regime is firmly in control – showed what it said was footage of Saddam chairing meetings Saturday with senior government ministers and with his son Qusai.

The report said the meetings dealt with “the aggression.” The report said Saddam and the others reviewed the situation in Umm Qasr, al-Rumeila, al-Faw and Nasiriyah – places where U.S.-led coalition troops have battled Iraqi troops.

“They expressed their satisfaction with the heroic stance of the armed forces,” the TV report said.

The Iraqi military spokesman appeared on TV to read a communique on the day’s fighting. He maintained Iraqi air defenses shot down 21 cruise missiles on Saturday.

The communique said Saddam’s Fedayeen, a militia led by Saddam’s son Odai, carried out several combat missions, destroying one tank and injuring several coalition troops.

The TV report did not mention two days of fierce bombardments on Baghdad that destroyed presidential palaces, government offices and military headquarters.

Earlier Saturday, Iraqis were back in the streets in greater numbers than they had been since the start of the U.S.-led war. Small shops and restaurants reopened. Workmen swept up glass.

But by early evening, there were few cars or pedestrians, and black smoke had drifted toward the heart of the city.

Elsewhere, U.S. aircraft bombed Iraqi tanks holding bridges near Basra, the country’s second-largest city.

Also Saturday, Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf addressed the Iraqi people, claiming that the government had repulsed the U.S.-British attacks, destroying five tanks in the process. He also said captives taken by coalition troops were civilians, not Iraqi soldiers.

“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 on a small area of Baghdad, injuring more than 200, mostly civilians.

However, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Saturday that at least 100 people were injured in the overnight airstrikes on Baghdad. The ICRC said earlier that one person died and 14 were wounded on the first day of the war.

Florian Westphal, an ICRC spokesman in Geneva, said ICRC staff visited a Baghdad hospital Saturday and counted around 100 wounded.

“To the best of our knowledge, these were the wounded from last night,” he said. “We’ve been touring these places following the start of the attacks.”

Saturday dawned with an enormous blast at first light, the first in Baghdad since an attack filled the sky with fireballs Friday night, illuminating the city of 5 million.

The air barrage came with U.S. ground troops headed toward Baghdad, and with Saddam and his regime fighting to demonstrate their command despite reports of surrendering Iraqi troops and the loss of strategic sites.

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 Saturday.

“They are a gang of war criminals … international bastards,” he said. “They lie day and night. They are not human.”

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