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Bombing Intensifies in Baghdad

Bombing Intensifies in Baghdad


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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Missiles screamed over Baghdad and buildings shook -- sometimes violently -- from explosions Monday morning, as coalition forces intensified their bombardment of the Iraqi capital.

Heavy small-arms fire erupted in the center of the city at 8:30 a.m. and a fire raged on the southern tip of the old Palace grounds on the west bank of the Tigris River. Video from the Arabic TV station Al-Jazeera showed a slow, low flying plane drawing machine gun fire as it circled above Baghdad.

The stepped-up assault on Baghdad followed a weekend of incursions by U.S. forces in tanks and armored personnel carriers. Troops rolled through streets of the capital "destroying all of the enemy vehicles and personnel with whom they've come in contact," Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN on Sunday.

"One of the points is to destroy the enemy that we found, and the last two raids have been very, very successful at doing that," he said.

Intermittent explosions were heard in the city Sunday night into Monday, along with periodic anti-aircraft fire. Shortly before dawn, aircraft could be heard over the capital and heavier explosions shook downtown buildings, echoing from the southern outskirts.

After sunrise, a long series of blasts rocked Baghdad and dark gray smoke rose on the horizon to the south and southwest. Residents could hear what seemed to be the sound of surface-to-surface rockets, artillery and aircraft.

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.

Meanwhile, Marines closing in on Baghdad from the south were ordered to remove their chemical warfare suits for the first time in 20 days. Presumably, commanders have determined the threat of a chemical or biological weapons attack had lessened enough to allow troops to shed the gear, stifling in the hot desert.

South of the capital, U.S. forces took control of the center of the holy city of Karbala on Sunday after block-by-block fighting, the Army Times newspaper reported from the scene.

Suggesting disarray among Iraq's elite fighters, Saddam Hussein urged Iraqi troops separated from their combat units to join other squads to fend off the Americans, in a statement read Sunday on Iraqi television and radio.

The statement also said anyone who destroys an allied tank, armored personnel carrier or artillery would be awarded 15 million dinars, or about $8,000 by the unofficial exchange rate.

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.

On Sunday, the streets of the capital 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 into the capital. Iraqi leaders denied heavy casualties and took pains to show they were still in control.

In a statement aired on state-run television, Iraq claimed Sunday its forces had killed 50 enemy troops and wounded scores of others in the previous 24 hours. It also said they had destroyed 27 tanks and damaged 10 others; destroyed 13 armored personnel carriers and shot down two Apache helicopters.

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 appeared be taking its toll Baghdad residents. At the al-Kindi hospital in a working-class neighborhood, 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.

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

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