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Explosions Shake Baghdad

Explosions Shake Baghdad

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- 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.

An explosion rattled buildings early Sunday, several hours after midnight. Thunderous blasts struck throughout Saturday, sending towers of smoke into the air.

Warplanes could be heard overhead for a second straight day, but the strikes were less intense than the heavy assault Friday night, which raised fireballs in the city and smashed a number of palaces and government buildings. The latest targets were unclear.

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

Iraqi anti-aircraft fire was also less intense than Friday night. Gen. Tommy Franks, who is running the U.S.-led campaign, said the Iraqi military was moving its air defenses around to protect them.

"It was pretty evident last night that there was a lot of air defense going up into the air," he told reporters in Doha on Saturday. "It is obvious that the regime continues to move air-defense assets around as best he can for the purpose of survivability."

As late as 11 p.m., street vendors ventured into parts of the capital during a bombing respite. Armed militiamen and security forces huddled around fires to keep warm. But the capital remained a virtual ghost town with most residents staying inside.

Iraqi state television reported that airstrikes Saturday also hit the city of Tikrit, Saddam's hometown and a stronghold of support. The report said five civilians were killed and four wounded.

In an effort to show that the regime is firmly in control, the television also aired 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.

U.S.-led troops raced through the desert more than halfway to Baghdad, and the American military says Saddam is losing command and control with Iraqi troops surrendering and strategic sites lost.

But the regime insisted it was scoring victories. A military spokesman reading a television communique on the day's fighting maintained Iraqi air defenses shot down 21 cruise missiles Saturday.

The spokesman 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.

Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf addressed the Iraqi people earlier Saturday, claiming the government repulsed U.S.-British attacks and destroyed five tanks. He dismissed footage of surrending troops, saying the Americans and British had captured civilians, not Iraqi soldiers.

"Baghdad will remain with its head held high," Al-Sahhaf said. "The Baghdad of Saddam will remain defiant."

Elsewhere, U.S. aircraft bombed Iraqi tanks holding bridges near Basra, the country's second-largest city. In northern Iraq, air strikes and anti-aircraft fire were reported late Saturday in the area of Mosul, a strategic oil site.

Friday night, Baghdad came under the most intense barrage since the war began, with Tomahawk missiles raining down to destroy presidential palaces, government offices and military headquarters in the city of 5 million.

Iraqi officials said three people were killed and 200 wounded, mostly civilians, in the night's barrage.

However, the International Committee of the Red Cross on Saturday put the casualty toll at at least 100 people from the strikes. The ICRC said earlier that one person died and 14 were wounded on the first day of the war.

Saturday dawned with an enormous blast at first light, the first of intermittent strikes through the day.

Late Saturday, Iraqi officials bused journalists to residential areas they said were bombed by allied forces.

Seven houses were destroyed in the al-Qadassiya area, and 12 were badly damaged in what appeared to be a missile attack, according to Lt. Gen. Hatem al-Ra'ai, commander of the civil defense forces.

Several people were wounded, and at least one other was believed buried in the debris, said Iraqi officials at the site.

Debris and broken glass littered the street, where a deep crater had opened. It was filled with twisted metal rods, slabs of concrete and furniture.

Despite apparent setbacks in the battlefields of the south, Saddam's regime was making 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."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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