- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

BAGHDAD The cupola of President Saddam Hussein's newest palace was floodlit on Friday night, almost inviting a strike. Yesterday, its Ottoman-style portico was a blackened shell after it took a direct hit from a cruise missile during the ensuing firestorm.
But four giant bronze busts of Saddam 20 times life-size and sporting spiked helmets like that worn by his hero Saladdin, the medieval Arab warrior survived the "shock and awe" attack.
Though his palace has been ruined, the man himself still towers over the city. As far as Iraqis in Baghdad are concerned, the air raids damaged the infrastructure of his power, but he still controls their lives.
Iraqis are meant to tell foreigners that they have no fear and will fight to the end with pitchforks, clubs and their bare hands. Shortly before the war started, Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said: "People go in the streets to chant: 'Iraq is Saddam, and Saddam is Iraq.'"
Explosions rocked Baghdad throughout the day and into the night yesterday as a relentless succession of U.S. raids sent fireballs billowing into the sky and covered parts of the Iraq capital in a pall of smoke.
About a dozen big explosions shook downtown Baghdad and the outskirts about 2:15 a.m. today, a Reuters news agency correspondent in the city said.
The series of blasts shook Baghdad, home to more than 5 million people, and large areas were plunged into darkness for about half an hour close to midnight last night.
Intelligence headquarters and a presidential palace, both targeted Friday night, were pounded again late yesterday.
"They are definitely raising the intensity now," Reuters correspondent Khaled Yacoub Oweis said.
Iraqi officials said three persons had been killed and 207 wounded in Baghdad on Friday night, the fiercest attack so far in the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam.
Iraqi state television in an effort to show that the regime is firmly in control showed what it said was footage of Saddam chairing meetings yesterday with senior government ministers and with his son, Qusai, the Associated Press reported.
An Iraqi military spokesman appeared on TV to read a communique on the day's fighting. He maintained Iraqi air defenses shot down 21 cruise missiles yesterday.
The TV report did not mention two days of fierce bombardments on Baghdad. But later in the day, Iraqi officials bused journalists to residential areas they said were bombed by allied forces.
The city's air-raid sirens gave little or no warning of the daylight raids yesterday. There was often little sign of Iraqi anti-aircraft fire, which had been intense during the overnight U.S. air and missile strikes on the center of the city.
"Three people were martyred in Baghdad last night, and we are preparing for more deaths because the situation is developing rapidly," Iraqi Health Minister Umeed Midhat Mubarak told a news conference.
Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf earlier told reporters that 207 civilians had been wounded overnight, making a total of 250 since raids started Thursday.
Iraqi forces moved yesterday to set oil-filled trenches ablaze around the capital in an apparent bid to create a smokescreen to hinder air strikes by U.S. and British forces.
At least two dozen fires were raging around Baghdad, sending walls of thick black smoke into the sky. But the strategy might not prove effective against attacks because many modern weapons use satellites to navigate.
The overnight raids sent huge fireballs and mushroom clouds of smoke and debris into the night sky. They targeted Saddam's main palace on the banks of the Tigris River, government and military targets and other symbols of his rule.
Dazed parents said their children trembled with fear at the onslaught on the sprawling city dotted with palm trees.
Two explosions were heard in central Baghdad as dawn was breaking yesterday. Less than an hour later, a third blast echoed from the city's outskirts. Air-raid sirens wailed, and ambulances raced through the streets.
In the first afternoon attack, a series of explosions started on the outskirts, accompanied by the overhead rumble of warplanes, and gradually moved toward the center of the city.
Sirens sounded after the attacks, rather than before, and no anti-aircraft fire could be heard in the city center.
At dusk, more large blasts were heard pounding on Baghdad's outskirts, and new fires lit the darkening skies over the south and east of the city.
On the ground, small groups of soldiers with rifles were out on the largely deserted streets.
Shrapnel and glass littered the riverside Abu Nuwas Street, across the Tigris from Saddam's presidential compound.
In the compound, which houses the headquarters of Qusai, the younger son charged by Saddam with defending Baghdad, a building still smoldered.
A small villa belonging to Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan was destroyed.
Two other buildings, the Palace of Peace and the Palace of Flowers, were struck and fire trucks were seen at the gates of the Republican Palace, next to broken water pipes and other debris.
An air force center in Saadoun Street in central Baghdad was also hit by repeated cruise-missile strikes, while the front of a ministry building close to the Rasheed Hotel was shattered.
Shaken residents said despite the terrifying fury of the attacks they would not take to the air-raid shelters scattered around the city. Memories of an attack that killed hundreds of people in a shelter in the 1991 Persian Gulf war still linger.
"We'd prefer to die at home than suffocate underground in a shelter," said Suad Saleh. "I won't go to the shelters."

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