Raid on Baghdad: Funeral marchers call for vengeance

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The Independent Online
BAGHDAD (Agencies) - Piles of rubble and several bodies littered streets near Iraq's intelligence headquarters, the target of a US cruise- missile attack in retaliation for an alleged plot to kill the former US president George Bush.

The authorities barred journalists from approaching the headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service in the wealthy Mansour residential area but showed them a dozen destroyed and damaged homes near by and streets piled with rubble.

The bodies of two men were seen lying face down outside one home whose facade had crumbled. Iraqi officials said women and children were among the casualties, but gave no toll. Rescue workers dug through the debris, and ambulances rushed back and forth to the scene. There were a few burnt-out cars and broken glass was strewn throughout the area. The Venezuelan embassy was damaged.

For two minutes the air-raid sirens went on, witnesses said but there was nothing untoward that they could see or hear.

Then, one said, there were a series of mammoth explosions that went on for what seemed like 10 minutes.

'We had no warning of the bombardment. We were completely surprised,' said Abderrahman Sadeq Jalluli, an engineer who said he was fortunate to have escaped with minor injuries after the blasts threw him to the ground.

'A huge blaze - like lightning - lit up the night sky,' said another resident. He said he was woken up by the din and saw tracer bullets shooting up into the night sky. 'There was anti- aircaft fire, but it was not heavy.' Some residents said that despite the racket they couldn't believe an attack was in progress and did not even get up to find out what was happening.

There was most anger, which spread outside the worst-hit area to the rest of the capital, over the death in the attack of Layla al-Attar, a celebrated painter who was director of the Saddam Centre for Arts. She and her husband were found dead under debris at home. A black placard tied to the entrance of the Culture Ministry lamented her death.

A cloud of dust still lingered around the area four hours after the attack.

About 10,000 angry Iraqis yesterday marched in a funeral procession for six of the civilians who were reported to have been killed in the raid. The marchers took turns to carry the coffins as they walked through the streets of Baghdad.

Black placards carried by demonstrators read: 'Martyrs' souls call for vengeance. Glory to the martyrs of Iraq. Shame on America.'

When the procession came to a close, relatives and mourners escorted the coffins to their final resting places. A frail old man wiped his tears. 'Has one to live all this long to see all these things?' he moaned.

The official press denounced the attack. 'Once more the cowardly fire their missiles of blind hate on proud and dignified Baghdad,' wrote al- Thawra, the ruling Baath party paper.