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Saddam Urges Separated Troops to Fend Off Americans

Saddam Urges Separated Troops to Fend Off Americans

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Saddam Hussein urged Iraqi troops separated from their combat squads to join other fighters to fend off the Americans, according to a statement read on TV that indicates disarray among the country's elite fighters.

The appeal came as Baghdad shook from continued allied bombing. At nightfall Sunday, long bursts of heavy machine-gun fire and strong explosions rocked the capital in what appeared to be a battle not far from the city center.

The shriek of surface-to-surface missiles, the pounding of artillery and bursts of what sounded like heavy machine-gun grew in frequency and intensity Sunday evening in the city's southern approaches.

Just before 9 p.m., loud explosions and gunfire were heard downtown, not far from the Information Ministry and a hotel where many journalists are staying.

Prayers broadcast from Baghdad's mosques filtered through the din of battle. "God is great and to him we owe thanks," clerics intoned every time the city came under attack.

Two hours later, Baghdad was quiet, with occasional light weapons and missile fire. Explosions could be heard in the distance.

The statement attributed to Saddam, read on Iraqi television and radio, also said that anyone who destroys an allied tank, armored personnel carrier or artillery would be awarded 15 million dinars, or about $8,000.

Iraqi satellite television showed brief footage of a smiling Saddam in military uniform chairing a meeting it said was held Sunday with his top aides.

In a separate announcement, a broadcaster for Iraqi state radio read a decree by Saddam that two female suicide bombers be awarded posthumously the medal of the Al-Rafdin -- or "The Two Rivers" -- the nation's highest decoration, and that their families be given 50 million dinars or about $28,000 each.

The attack last week in western Iraq killed three U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint 80 miles from the Syrian border.

Burnt-out Iraqi tanks littered one of the main roads leading to Baghdad on Sunday, one day after American troops muscled through the city. Regime leaders remained defiant and appealed for calm.

A haze hung over the capital. Some of the fires ignited by authorities more than two weeks ago to conceal targets appeared to have fizzled, reducing the gray smoke spiraling into the skies.

The streets crawled with black-clad Fedayeen militia, the armed loyalists of the ruling Baath Party, and teenagers with guns.

Iraqi troops clambered up what they claimed was an allied tank destroyed in a Sunday morning battle. They made V-for-victory signs and chanted slogans in support of Saddam.

The U.S. Central Command said coalition soldiers killed up to 3,000 Iraqi troops in Saturday's incursion. Iraqi leaders denied heavy casualties and took pains to show they were still in control.

Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf warned Baghdad residents against "rumors" and "lies."

"Open your eyes and keep your minds alert to be able to differentiate between information and the inadequate ones," he said in a press briefing Sunday. He urged residents to remain calm and not to fire guns without being told.

The escalation of violence in the capital appeared be taking its toll on residents.

At the al-Kindi hospital in a working-class Baghdad, scores of people with shrapnel wounds have been coming in since Saturday night. Among them were eight members of one family.

In one ward, several children wore bloodstained casts on their legs and arms, and some had difficulty breathing. One girl had bandages over half her face. Most children gazed aimlessly while their parents tried to comfort them.

A Saudi man had both legs amputated below the knee. He said he was hit in the southern district of al-Doura on Saturday night during an allied air raid. "God willed it and what he wanted was done," Roweijah Al-Oteibi said from his hospital bed.

Iraq's state-run newspapers continued to publish, dominated by official statements, pictures of wounded civilians and news of anti-war protests around the world.

Al-Sahhaf blamed the Americans for the suffering of Baghdad residents. He claimed allied air strikes deliberately targeted power stations and accused U.S. troops of targeting civilians.

"They are killing civilians. Whenever they see an Iraqi person, they kill him, take him prisoner or kidnap him," he said.

Power was out for two days before being restored to some parts Saturday. Most of Baghdad was still dark Sunday, and the streets were deserted by nightfall.

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

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