Iraqis Die in Baghdad Market, U.S. Pounds Capital
Fri March 28, 2003 05:05 PM ET
By Samia Nakhoul
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqis said more than 50 people were killed on Friday in an air raid they said targeted a popular Baghdad market as the United States unleashed on the capital some of the heaviest air strikes of the war.
U.S. ground troops advancing to Baghdad paused to regroup and strengthen supply lines, while American officials rejected criticism that the invasion to topple President Saddam Hussein and rid Iraq of illegal weapons was becoming bogged down.
President Bush said the campaign had made great progress and pledged victory.
“The Iraqi regime will be disarmed. The Iraqi regime will be removed from power. Iraq will be free,” Bush declared.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld accused Syria of providing military equipment to Iraq—a charge dismissed by Iraq’s neighbor as a tactic to divert attention away from Iraqi deaths. Rumsfeld also warned Iran, against backing military personnel active inside Iraqi territory.
Iraq played on U.S. and British fears of being sucked into bloody street battles, especially in a capital heavily defended by elite Republican Guards. The Gulf nation swore to fight on and promised “living hell” for the invaders.
In Baghdad, Dr. Osama Sakhari at Al Noor Hospital said he counted 55 people killed and more than 47 wounded from an air raid at a busy market that could further undermine American and British efforts to win Iraqi hearts and minds.
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said, “My explanation for their increasing crimes against civilians is that they are feeling the weight of the series of defeats which we inflicted on them on the outskirts of the cities and in the desert.”
Distraught Iraqis crowded into the hospital, comforting or searching for scores of loved ones they say were killed or wounded. Reuters correspondent Hassan Hafidh said he counted five bodies in one of the hospital’s morgue units.
Abu Dhabi television said cruise missiles may have hit the market in the city’s Shula neighborhood and showed a gaping hole on one street and damaged cars.
U.S. officials said they had no knowledge of such reports. Earlier in the 9-day-old war, the Pentagon blamed an explosion in a city residential area on an errant Iraqi missile.
Images of carnage in Iraq have fueled Arab anger against a war which Washington says is not aimed at ordinary Iraqis.
NEW AIR STRIKES
Fresh blasts were heard on the city’s outskirts around midnight (4 p.m. EST), Reuters correspondents said. New explosions also rocked Mosul late Friday, according to a correspondent for al-Jazeera television in the northern city. Earlier, U.S. defense officials said a radar-avoiding B-2 stealth bomber had dropped two earth-shattering 4,600-pound bombs on a communications center in downtown Baghdad.
It was the first use of the devastating “bunker busters” on Baghdad since the start of the war.
Reuters correspondent Nadim Ladki saw two damaged communications centers in the capital. One big building was struck at its base and a tangled pile of smoldering rubble was all that was left of a smaller facility. Many telephone lines were knocked out.
Iraqis converged on mosques for Friday prayers, enraged rather than cowed by the U.S. bombardment.
“You can see and hear the missiles and bombs raining down on us and yet Muslims are coming to the house of God to pray,” said the preacher at the “Mother of All Battles” Mosque.
Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said overnight raids on the capital had killed seven civilians and wounded 92. Witnesses said eight more people were killed when a Baghdad office of the ruling Baath Party was demolished in a later raid. Both tolls were given before the deaths at the market.
Sahaf also said U.S. forces had used cluster bombs against the Shi’ite shrine city of Najaf, killing 26 civilians and wounding 60.
In Washington, Rumsfeld said shipments of military supplies, including night-vision goggles, have been crossing into Iraq from Syria.
“These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces. We consider such trafficking as hostile acts, and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments,” Rumsfeld said. He declined to comment whether the United States would react with military force against Syria.
Rumsfeld also told Iran U.S.-led troops would treat any Iranian-backed military personnel in Iraq as combatants.
“… the entrance into Iraq by military forces, intelligence personnel or proxies not under the direct operational control of (U.S. Army) General (Tommy) Franks will be taken as a potential threat to coalition forces,” he said.
Against a backdrop of fear Iraq would launch terror attacks against the United States, the State Department said Iraqi intelligence officers had planned to attack U.S. targets in two foreign countries but the local authorities arrested them before they could act.
One of the groups of Iraqis was in the Gulf region, a U.S. official said. The MSNBC news channel said one was in Jordan.
In the ground war, an American officer said U.S. forces had fought around 1,500 Iraqis overnight near Najaf, 100 miles south of the capital. He had no word on casualties.
Reuters reporter Luke Baker, near Najaf, said U.S. forces used tanks and artillery. “The battle raged for a few hours. It finished about 3 a.m. (7 p.m. EDT/midnight GMT),” Baker said.
Sahaf said Iraqi forces destroyed 33 tanks and armored vehicles and killed four invaders in the area. U.S. officials reported four Marines missing near Nassiriya to the south.
Reuters correspondents with American units, some of which have raced as close as 50 miles to Baghdad, said the columns seemed in no hurry to advance further for now.
Officers said they needed to bring fresh stocks of food, fuel and ammunition down the long supply lines from Kuwait.
Britain’s Army chief, Mike Jackson, dismissed suggestions that the campaign was stalled.
“Armies cannot keep moving forever without stopping from time to time to regroup, to ensure their supplies are up,” he said. “It’s a pause while people get sorted out for what comes next.
“The conventional fight, if you like, with the Republican Guard is not too far away I suspect,” he added.
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a leading hawk, said the United States had not anticipated some of the tactics used by Iraqi fighters but asserted that the campaign was ahead of schedule. “On the whole things are happening faster than expected,” he said.
Within the next month the Pentagon plans to double its forces on the ground in Iraq to about 200,000.
Wartime caution prompted by fear of a protracted military standoff in Iraq lured investors away from stocks and the dollar, and boosted demand for “safe-haven” assets like gold.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to approve using billions of dollars in Iraqi oil revenues to buy food and medicine in a bid to avert a humanitarian crisis.