Baghdad, March 27 (Reuters): Four explosions shook central Baghdad after nightfall today and more blasts rocked the city outskirts as Iraq’s capital entered a second week of the US-led war to oust President Saddam Hussein.
“Warplanes can be heard overhead and there is some sporadic anti-aircraft fire,” a Reuters correspondent said, adding there were at least eight explosions on the city outskirts.
The raids after night fell on this city of five million people followed a series of attacks during which residents said the al-Salam presidential palace was struck. The palace was bombed last week shortly after the US-led war started. A public communications centre in the heart of the city was also hit, residents said, along with some military positions on the eastern and southern perimeter of Baghdad.
Earlier in the day heavy explosions marked the end of week one of the war. “There were three very powerful blasts, close by,” a Reuters correspondent said after the first explosions hit. “There are warplanes overhead and anti-aircraft fire.”
Later, another series of explosions pounded the centre of the city and by around 4 p.m. the raid was continuing at a brisk pace, with more blasts near the centre. More explosions — one in the city centre, others on the outskirts — rocked the city in the early evening. Air raid sirens sounded and anti-aircraft batteries opened up.
At one point, this correspondent was briefly deafened by the roar of a surface-to-air missile being launched nearby. Arab television stations reported that explosions were heard near the information ministry. But Reuters correspondents at a news conference in the ministry building said it was unaffected.
Residents said many recent attacks have focused on areas south and east of the city where Republican Guards fighters are believed to be dug in to defend against advancing US troops.
But other strikes still target the heart of Baghdad. Yesterday, up to 15 Iraqis were killed in a residential street in what witnesses said was a US missile strike, the highest known civilian death toll in any single incident in Iraq since the war began.
Both daylight and night bombing raids in the past week have battered Saddam’s palaces and government and military buildings. Washington and London accuse Saddam of hiding weapons of mass destruction, a charge he denies.
Other air strikes have targeted cities such as Mosul and Kirkuk in northern Iraq, where US forces are moving to open a second, limited front against Baghdad.
Many of Baghdad’s residents have left to escape the blitz of bombs and cruise missiles, anxious to get away before any ground battle for the city begins. Iraqi troops have lit giant fires in oil-filled trenches, casting a thick black pall over the city, hoping the smokescreen will provide protection against air strikes. But US and British munitions are mostly guided by satellite and so are unaffected by the smoke.
US chopper ‘hit’
The al Jazeera satellite television channel showed pictures of a US helicopter which it said had been shot down over Iraq today.
The Qatar-based channel broadcast footage of a helicopter with US military markings surrounded by Iraqi men waving rifles. It also showed pictures of what Jazeera said was a downed US pilotless drone. Jazeera said the helicopter was an Apache shot down in the mid-Euphrates region. It gave no details of the fate of the crew. US officials had no immediate comment.