Huge blasts resound through Iraqi capital
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Six explosions in rapid succession shook central Baghdad late Monday, sending smoke billowing from the Old Palace presidential compound and bathing the sky in a soft orange glow.
Across the Tigris River, on its east bank, another target was hit in the city center less than a mile from the Palestine Hotel. The foundation of the 18-story hotel, where foreign journalists are staying, shook as if it had been struck by a powerful earthquake.
The blasts were some of the strongest since the U.S.-led air war began March 20, and a steady rumbling of explosions continued south of the capital early Tuesday — likely against Republican Guard positions.
Monday night, Saddam Hussein and his sons Odai and Qusai appeared on Iraqi television, with the station showing video footage of a meeting of top military commanders. There was no way of determining when the video was shot.
Saddam decorated commanders and troops of army units in Umm Qasr, the Faw peninsula and Nasiriyah for their “heroic” defense of the areas, state television said.
A communique read on Iraqi Satellite Television said members of the 11th Division, which fought in Nasiriyah, would receive medals and their families would immediately receive 2 million dinars — about $670 at the exchange rate on the eve of the war.
Saddam was last shown on Iraqi television on Saturday night. Odai had not been seen on Iraqi TV since the war began, according to Al-Arabiya television.
U.S. attempts to silence Iraqi TV and radio through aerial attacks have failed, with Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf insisting the broadcasts were unaffected.
Despite repeated bombings of the Iraqi Information Ministry and Iraqi transmitters, the local media operation was “as good as it was before” the attacks, al-Sahhaf said.
He said he and several colleagues helped put out the flames in the ministry, which was struck for the second time in two days, while technicians repaired damaged transmitters. The Americans had hoped to cut off television and radio transmissions to halt Iraqi propaganda.
Iraqi television was off for about three hours Monday morning before broadcasts resumed.
At his Monday briefing in Qatar, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks of U.S. Central Command said damage to the transmission facilities meant the civilian population “did not see much of the regime at this time.”
Al-Sahhaf condemned the Americans and the British as “saboteurs of the first rate who deserve nothing less than death.” Al-Sahhaf’s comments echoed those of Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, who warned that only surrender could save coalition troops from a “holocaust.”
Al-Sahhaf also claimed that Iraqi fighters had killed 43 coalition soldiers on Sunday. The official death count released by the United States and Britain was 70 since the war began.
“They deny and spread lies” about their casualties, the minister said. Sabri, meeting with reporters at the Palestine Hotel, echoed al-Sahhaf’s confident tone.
“Every day that passes the United States and Britain are sinking deeper in the mud of defeat,” Sabri said. “Those two states have no choice but to withdraw early and fast, today before tomorrow.”
Nearly all of Baghdad’s telephone lines appeared out in the city of 5 million after at least five telephone exchanges were struck by allied bombings. But the city’s power supply remains intact and street lights came on at night.
Around midafternoon, a low-flying aircraft could be heard over central Baghdad and two explosions followed. The target was a site on the west bank of the Tigris River. A huge cloud of white smoke rose from the area, which houses many government departments, presidential compounds and other sensitive sites.
B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers struck communication and command centers in Baghdad earlier Monday. The U.S. Central Command said it was the first time in history that long-range B-1s, B-2s and B-52s had carried out simultaneous attacks on the same location.
Coalition bombardments have focused recently on Republican Guard units protecting the approaches to Baghdad, to try to wear down Saddam’s best-trained forces ahead of a U.S.-led ground assault on the capital.