Bombers return to Baghdad with a vengeance

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The Independent Online

Allied forces took advantage of a break in the weather overnight to give Baghdad its heaviest aerial bombardment in days in an attempt to crush Iraqi command and communication centres. Iraqi officials said at least seven people had died.

Allied forces took advantage of a break in the weather overnight to give Baghdad its heaviest aerial bombardment in days in an attempt to crush Iraqi command and communication centres. Iraqi officials said at least seven people had died.

Hours after defiant remarks by defence minister Sultan Hashem Ahmed, that the city would have to be taken street by street, a US B-2 stealth bomber dropped two 4,700-pound, satellite-guided "bunker busting" bombs on a major communications tower on the east bank of the Tigris River.

Another bomb was later reported to have destroyed the Baath party headquarters in Baghdad. Iraqi TV showed bodies being carried from the rubble.

US Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested US forces lay siege to Baghdad rather than invade, in hopes its citizens would rebel against the government.

Air assaults zeroed in on one of Saddam's presidential compounds in the heart of the capital, and Republican Guard positions around the city. Powerful explosions continued through the night, with a string of strong blasts before and after dawn.

The attack gutted a seven-story telephone exchange building in an area called Al-Alwya, leaving the street strewn with slabs of concrete, irons rods and corrugated metal.

Husein Moeini, telecommunications director of Baghdad, said he believed people were buried beneath the rubble, but journalists who arrived at the scene less than three hours after it was hit did not see a rescue operation under way.

On Friday morning Iraqi citizens were seen celebrating the crash of an unmanned allied drone which descended over the city by parachute. It was unclear whether the plane had been shot down. Journalists were taken to the scene of the crash, where there was some damage to nearby buildings, but no reported casualties.

Iraq's satellite television channel was cutting in and out after the strikes. The US forces had hoped to knock out Iraqi television and radio to disable Saddam's propaganda outlets.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed al Sahhaf said the overnight air strikes had killed seven people in Baghdad and wounded 92.

"They hit the ministry of information, ministry of planning, the communications. In these buildings are civilians who go there to do their business," he said. "These buildings are in the city. When they target these buildings, they also hit houses and homes next to these buildings."

He said that the death toll from Thursday's attacks in Baghdad, including a stray missile blast on a Baghdad market, had reached 95 with another 290 injured.

Sahhaf denounced speculation that the Iraqi forces would use chemical weapons. Advancing forces recently found chemical weapons suits and gas masks left behind by soldiers in retreat.

He said having such equipment is standard procedure for any army – including those of Britain and the United States.

American troops are said to be between five and 10 days away from encircling Baghdad. There are currently 90,000 troops in Iraq with an extra 120,000 preparing to go into the country from the surrounding areas, with many expected to take part in any assault on Baghdad.

Coalition commanders said they would be prepared for any street battles in the city.

Lieutenant General William Wallace, Commander of the US Army V Corps, which is nearing Baghdad, told the Washington Post: "The enemy we are fighting is different from the one we'd wargamed.

"We knew they were there - the paramilitaries - but we didn't know they would fight like this."

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