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Ring of fire in bombed Baghdad
Busted: Saddam’s palace with his bust (extreme right) after the Shock and Awe raid. (AFP)

Baghdad, March 22 (Reuters): The US and Britain unleashed their first daylight air strikes on Baghdad today after pounding it with a fearsome night blitz that launched the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign.

The bombings peaked to a new intensity with several waves of air raids buffeting the Iraqi capital through the day. At the end of it, US forces said they had captured a vital crossing point over the Euphrates.

Iraqi forces lit oil-filled trenches around Baghdad to create a smokescreen to hinder the strikes. At least two dozen fires raged, sending plumes of thick black smoke into the sky.

But the fires, lit in an apparent bid to confuse missiles or bombers flying over the city, might not be effective because modern weapons use guidance systems to close in on targets. After dark on Saturday, at least seven explosions were heard in Baghdad.

The repeated daylight raids came after a devastating night bombardment that set off giant fireballs, thunderous explosions and mushroom clouds, reddening the sky in a major intensification of the three-day-old war. Iraq said three persons were killed in the night strike.

“So this is what they meant by ‘shock and awe’,” said a shaken taxi driver, referring to the Pentagon’s description of bombing on a scale designed to terrify Iraq into submission.

“This will be a campaign unlike any other in history. A campaign characterised by shock, by surprise, by flexibility... and by the application of overwhelming force,” US Army General Tommy Franks, commander of the invasion, said.

He added that tough days might lie ahead for the British and US invaders, but added that the outcome was not in doubt. President George W. Bush, too, warned Americans that the war could be “longer and more difficult” than some thought.

Reporters travelling with US forces across southern Iraq said troops had run into sporadic resistance which was sometimes proving tougher to dislodge than expected. A journalist with Britain’s Sky TV said four US soldiers he was travelling with were killed in central Iraq today after their vehicles were hit with grenades. There was no immediate confirmation of the deaths.

Keen to counter reports that Saddam Hussein is dead, Iraqi television showed him meeting top officials. The film gave no clue as to when the meetings took place, but the announcer said they took place on Saturday.

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