Iraq Bombings: `A huge explosion shook our house'

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"I HEARD a loud explosion which shook my house and we were all afraid," said Ali Jouda, a 16-year-old schoolboy, peering into a 10ft- deep crater made by a cruise missile in Karada Street in central Baghdad.

The missile struck at about 1am, demolishing two houses and injuring 30 people. The blast stripped the leaves off a tree and the hot shrapnel was still stuck in its bark.

After the first night ofattacks, the mood in Baghdad was stoic but edgy.

Hearing Ali Jouda speak, Raad Ibrahim, a student, contradicted him, saying: "I was not afraid. We're used to it. All the people were on the rooftops looking at the missiles strike."

Ali Jouda showed a chunk of aluminium which had come from the missile.

Meanwhile repairs were going ahead fast. A mechanical digger was scooping up debris and pumps were reducing the level of water in the crater.

Most of the strikes yesterday morning were beyond the outer suburbs - unlike in 1991, when power stations were hit in the first hours of the Gulf War.

But there were civilian casualties. In the Yarmuk Hospital, Dr Dhina Kanan, the head of surgery, said: "We received 10 civilian dead on arrival, as well as 30 wounded, of whom four have since died."

One of the injured was Hamid Mohsin, 30, his face badly burned by an explosion. Scorched hands stuck out from under the bedclothes, covered in ointment. "He may lose both of them," said Dr Kanan.

Baghdad was outwardly calm yesterday. Few soldiers were on the streets. Shops were open and traffic was heavy. But there were also signs of apprehension. Queues of cars outside petrol stations were long.

There was little information on military casualties. But outside the Yarmuk Hospital, a lieutenant in uniform wept as he stood beside a taxi with two coffins lashed to the roof. The dead men were soldiers and the coffins were draped in the Iraqi flag.

Among the targets hit was the home of Halla, Saddam Hussein's youngest daughter, though she had moved out several days ago.

Mohammed Said al-Sahas, Iraq's Foreign Minister, confirmed that the headquarters of both the military intelligence service and the security services had been hit, along with many industrial enterprises. Baghdad Radio said President Saddam had toured damaged buildings early in the morning.

Iraq's anti-aircraft fire was not as spectacular as in the Gulf War. This may be because Iraq is short of ammunition and is saving it for low- flying aircraft.

Iraqi television went off the air during the attack, but returned yesterday evening. This is important for the government as Iraqis get most of their news from TV.

If the government is surprised by what is happening, it is not showing it. "It's all to do with Monica [Lewinsky]," one official told The Independent.

Asked how the crisis would end, he said: "It is all in the hands of two men" - presumably President Clinton and President Saddam.

A sign of the ambivalent mood in the Iraqi capital was that last night, as air-raid sirens were sounding, there were wedding parties in the streets outside the al-Rasheed Hotel, banging drums and sounding trumpets.

As darkness fell the streets began to empty, but the silence did not last long. As the second wave of bombing began, anti-aircraft batteries fired and explosions from incoming missiles and bombs rocked the city. Thick columns of smoke rose. The skyline glowed orange as if buildings were on fire. After several more explosions, smoke began to spread across the city.