- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

BAGHDAD For the second time in one day, U.S. forces launched precision strikes on Iraq's capital yesterday, leaving its Ministry of Planning in flames.
The night sky once again crackled with flashing light and anti-aircraft fire as Tomahawk cruise missiles began dropping on Baghdad anew.
But Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's loyalists were left wondering when the full-scale blitz vowed by the United States would begin.
Instead of widespread bombardment, specific targets the main presidential palace, the ministry building and Special Republican Guard strongholds were struck by the second wave of U.S. missiles. The two buildings were hit in morning and evening attacks.
The Iraqi military said four soldiers were killed and six wounded in the day's strikes, adding that 72 cruise missiles were fired in all. The morning wave of missiles also killed another person apparently a Jordanian civilian and injured 14, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported.
While Baghdad was quiet for the rest of the night, air-raid sirens were heard before dawn in the key northern city of Mosul and several loud explosions were heard soon after.
In southern Iraq, meanwhile, U.S. forces rained artillery and rockets on Iraqi forces and crossed the border from Kuwait. Last night, Iraqi television announcers read a two-minute message from Saddam that mocked U.S. assertions that Iraqis would welcome allied forces with open arms.
"May you be accursed and may your actions fail," the statement said, addressing U.S. troops. "God is greater, God is greater, and may the debased ones be accursed."
In Baghdad, a witness reported seeing anti-aircraft artillery on the roof of the ministry building, which was burning as emergency vehicles rushed to the scene.
The fire was visible from across the river on the east bank of the Tigris.
On a cool, breezy Baghdad night, a thick plume of black smoke climbed into the sky, which was occasionally illuminated by red flares or tracer fire.
The presidential palace sits on the west side of the Tigris River, inside a vast area that is considered the official seat of power in Iraq but is rarely used by Saddam. The Iraqi leader has access to dozens of palaces.
Three distinct locations in the center of Baghdad were smoking, apparently after being bombed.
Reports circulating last night suggested that a 10-story office building damaged in the attack belonged to Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, a powerful figure in Saddam's regime and a stalwart of his ruling Ba'ath Party. Mr. Aziz is considered a close aide of the Iraqi leader.
Other thunderous detonations resounded from the area of the airport before the all-clear siren sounded, leaving an eerie quiet cut only by the roar of generators.
As dusk fell, many of those left in Baghdad ordinarily a city of 5 million abandoned its normally bustling streets for the safety of their homes, shelters or the countryside, anticipating night attacks.
By 7:30 p.m., there was hardly anyone on the streets and only a few cars speeding off. Within 90 minutes, the squawk of air-raid sirens filled the air and the second attack was under way.
Although longer in duration than the barrage that launched the war hours earlier, the bombing lasted barely 15 minutes, hardly on the scale of the strikes during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
The air-raid sirens resumed once again later, but there was no further attack. F-14 and F-18 jets armed with missiles and bombs took off from the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Their targets were unknown.
Pentagon officials have described their war strategy as "shock and awe," saying they planned to drop 10 times the bombs in the opening days of the air campaign than they had in the 1991 war.
Hundreds of armed members of the Ba'ath Party were hunkered down in the capital, waiting for the United States to unleash its full might, but there was no indication of when or if that might happen.
On Iraqi radio, a spokesman said that the first attack of the war had targeted Saddam's family home, as well as the residences of his three daughters. The spokesman condemned "the missiles of the reckless criminal Bush and his lackeys."
Baghdad was last bombed in December 1998, when U.S. missiles hit military targets around the city to punish Iraq for blocking weapons inspectors from the United Nations.

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