Iraq Says U.S. Missiles Kill 14 in Baghdad
Wednesday 26 March 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Adnan Saleh Barseem stood Wednesday amid burning cars and bombed-out restaurants, the aftermath of an aerial strike that killed 14 people in a crowded residential neighborhood in Baghdad.
"This is barbarian!'' he shouted as hundreds of angry Iraqis milled around craters created by two missiles that also injured 30 people, knocked down power lines and ruptured water pipes in the Al-Shaab neighborhood.
The worst single reported instance of civilian deaths since the U.S. bombing campaign began last week prompted little public mourning in the Iraqi capital. Instead, Iraqis shook their fists in hostility; others pledged allegiance to President Saddam Hussein.
"Oh, Saddam, we sacrifice our souls and blood to you,'' chanted residents of apartments damaged by flying shrapnel, taking to the streets near a gutted market of about 30 mostly inexpensive restaurants and auto repair shops.
Others hung out their apartment windows, flashing V-for- victory signs in support. Barseem surveyed the scene and declared, "It's proof that (U.S.) aggression is collapsing.''
U.S. Central Command said there was no proof U.S. missiles were involved in the civilian deaths, although they did acknowledge using "precision-guided weapons'' to target Iraqi missiles and launchers "placed within a civilian residential area.''
During a Pentagon briefing, Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said U.S. forces did not specifically aim at Al-Shaab, "nor were any bombs and missiles fired'' there. But he could not say whether the missiles that hit the neighborhood were Iraqi weapons or misguided U.S. missiles.
Later in the day, a series of explosions -- becoming louder and more frequent -- were audible across the city. Rain began to fall, combining with smoke and a sandstorm to give the city a dark, apocalyptic look.
When the sandstorm cleared, the strongest explosions in days shook the city -- although it was unclear where they originated.
After the missile blasts, Associated Press Television News video showed a large crater in the street near a smoldering building, with bodies wrapped in plastic sheeting in the back of a pickup truck.
Flames shot into the air above several burning shops, mixing with smoke from fuel fires lit by Iraqis to obscure targets for U.S. and British warplanes. Streets flooded after pipes ruptured, while street lights toppled and trees were uprooted.
Cars were tossed like toys, with some turned upside down and the wheels blown off others. Seventeen cars were destroyed, their charred metal skeletons left on the street, said Lt. Col. Hamad Abdullah, head of Iraqi civil defense in the area.
Men lugged water buckets to douse the burning automobiles, while women in black chadors grabbed the hands of children and ran from the scene.
The reports of civilian deaths prompted a quick response from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said he was "increasingly concerned by humanitarian casualties in this conflict.''
On Monday, Iraq's information minister reported 194 civilians had been injured so far in the bombing of Baghdad. That number threatened to grow as U.S.-led troops closed in on the city of 5 million.
"We are one tank of fuel from Baghdad,'' said Col. Michael Linnington, commander of the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division.
Iraq's state-run television returned to the airwaves Wednesday despite allied bombs and missiles that knocked out its signal for hours at a time. U.S. authorities had hoped to disable the television signal, ending its use as a propaganda tool.
Instead, a Muslim cleric appeared on television to urge Shiite and Sunni Muslims to unite in the face of U.S. aggression.
The attacks targeted not only Iraqi television but also government communications and satellite links at several sites in the capital, U.S. military officials said. Smoke was seen next to the Information Ministry and the Iraqi TV building.
But there was no trace of Al-Shabab television, the station owned by Saddam Hussein's son Odai. That station is normally transmitted from the state television building.
Iraqi Civilians Killed, Fighting Rages
By Samia Nakhoul
Wednesday 26 March 2003
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Heavy fighting raged in south and central Iraq on Wednesday and at least 15 Iraqi civilians were killed in a Baghdad street during another intense bombardment of the Iraqi capital.
The United States denied that it had targeted the Shaab residential district of Baghdad, where Iraqi witnesses spoke of a twin American missile strike, but the Pentagon left open the possibility that a missile or bomb had gone astray.
On a day in which confused reports emerged of heavy fighting around the southern city of Basra as well as closer to Baghdad, President Bush said the United States wanted to protect Iraqi civilians. But he warned Saddam Hussein that his day of reckoning was near.
Reuters correspondents counted 15 scorched corpses lying amid blackened, mangled cars and rubble from broken buildings in the Shaab area of Baghdad. Flames poured from an oil truck. Yelling residents pulled a man with a bloody head from rubble and said a pregnant woman was among the dead.
If a U.S. missile or bomb was the cause, it would be the first known strike to caused substantial civilian casualties in a week of unrelenting air attacks on targets in and around Baghdad.
Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director for operations for the U.S. Joint Staff, said the U.S. military did not target anything in the Shaab district and he did not know if it was hit by an errant U.S. missile or an Iraqi anti-aircraft missile falling back to earth.
Another U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "Is there a potential for an errant missile to go astray like a Tomahawk or something like that? Yes."
FIGHTING NEAR BASRA
In southern Iraq, a British official said a column of Iraqi tanks and armored personnel carriers poured out of Basra, where civilian unrest was reported on Tuesday. As it headed south, it was attacked by U.S. and British air and artillery forces.
U.S. forces advancing toward Baghdad from the south fought bloody skirmishes, as a second day of severe sandstorms buffeted the region.
U.S. troops fought a fierce battle with Iraqi forces for control of a bridge over the Euphrates river close to the Shi'ite Muslim shrine city of Najaf.
A U.S. military officer monitoring the clash said an unspecified number of U.S. tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles had been destroyed by Iraqis armed with rocket propelled grenades and automatic rifles at Abu Sukhayr, 13 miles southeast of Najaf.
He said he believed that the U.S. crews had escaped from their vehicles but their fate was still unclear.
CNN said another large armored column of elite Republican Guard units streamed out of Baghdad heading toward U.S. forces near Najaf, who were braced for a battle.
A reporter attached to the U.S. 7th Cavalry said the Republican Guard column of around 1,000 Iraqi mobile units was advancing toward U.S. positions under cover of the sandstorm.
A U.S. military spokesman in Central Command war headquarters in Qatar said he could not confirm the report.
Bush told hundreds of troops and their families in Florida that U.S. fighting units were now facing desperate troops loyal to President Saddam Hussein.
"We cannot predict the final day of the Iraqi regime, but I can assure you, and I assure the long-suffering people of Iraq, there will be a day of reckoning for the Iraqi regime, and that day is drawing near," Bush said, speaking at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, which houses U.S. Central Command.
"Our pilots and cruise missiles have struck vital military targets with lethal precision," he said.
In contrast, he said Iraqi units "wage attacks while posing as civilians. They use real civilians as human shields. They pretend to surrender, then fire upon those who show them mercy," Bush said.
"Protecting innocent civilians is a central commitment of our war plan. Our enemy in this war is the Iraqi regime, not the people who have suffered under it," he declared.
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said more than 500 people had been wounded and 200 homes destroyed as U.S. forces stormed through Nassiriya city earlier.
A U.S. military official said some of the 12 soldiers whose supply convoy was ambushed near Nassiriya in southern Iraq on Sunday may have been killed by their captors although they tried to surrender.
The Pentagon said it was flying its high-tech 4th Infantry Division and other units totaling more than 30,000 troops to the Gulf to join the invasion of Iraq. Some commentators have said U.S. ground troops were overstretched, especially since Iraqi resistance has been more troublesome than expected.
Bush launched the war with British support to depose Saddam and take control of his alleged weapons of mass destruction. Iraq denied having any such weapons and U.S. forces have not yet found any.
Britain's defense minister Geoff Hoon accused Saddam loyalists of firing at their own civilians to prevent them from rising up against the government.
An Arab television channel broadcast video of two dead soldiers and two prisoners of war, all said to be British.
Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his main ally on Iraq, were to meet at the Camp David presidential retreat on Wednesday.
The United Nations World Food Program said Iraq would probably need the biggest humanitarian operation in history to feed its entire population after the U.S.-led invasion.
With the humanitarian situation in Basra causing growing concern, British naval officers said they had finally secured Iraq's only deepwater port of Umm Qasr on Tuesday.
A seven-truck convoy arrived there on Wednesday with Kuwaiti aid for hungry and thirsty civilians in southern Iraq. Trucks of medical equipment headed for Baghdad from Jordan.
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