| Steal a breath: A US soldier rests while on patrol near the Harir airbase. (Reuters)
Baghdad, March 28 (Reuters): The US unleashed huge “bunker-buster” bombs on Baghdad today in some of the heaviest air strikes of the Iraq war, but advancing American ground troops appeared to pause to regroup and strengthen supply lines.
Late tonight, Arabic-language television stations said more than 50 Iraqis had been killed in what they said was an air raid on a marketplace in the Iraqi capital Baghdad today. The death of 15 civilians on Wednesday had sparked outrage across the world.
Al-Jazeera’s correspondent said 51 Iraqis had been killed and 49 injured in the market in the Shula neighbourhood of Baghdad. “An Iraqi official told us that the search is still going on for those trapped under the rubble,” he said and showed pictures of bodies, including those of two children.
Dubai-based Al Arabiya television reported 52 dead and showed pictures of injured at a hospital. Iraqi government officials were not immediately available for comment.
US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said shipments of military equipment have been crossing into Iraq from neighbouring Syria and said America would hold Syria’s government accountable for the “hostile acts”. Rumsfeld also warned Iran against inserting military personnel into Iraq during the war, saying such forces would be treated by US-led forces as combatants.
Playing on US and British fears of being sucked into bloody street battles, especially in a capital heavily defended by elite Republican Guards, Iraq swore to fight on and promised ”living hell” for the invaders.
US defence officials said a radar-avoiding B-2 stealth bomber had dropped two earth-shattering 2,086-kg bombs on a communications centre in downtown Baghdad.
It was the first use of the so-called “bunker-busters” on Baghdad since the war to oust President Saddam Hussein began nine days ago.
Defiant Iraqis converged on mosques for Friday prayers, enraged rather than cowed by the US bombardment.
In the ground war, an American officer said US forces had fought around 1,500 Iraqis overnight near Najaf, 160 km south of the capital, but he had no word on casualties.
Reuters correspondents with US units, some of which have raced to as little as 80 km from Baghdad, said the columns seemed in no hurry to get closer than that for now. Officers said they needed to bring fresh stocks of food, fuel and ammunition down the long supply lines from Kuwait.
“It’s a pause while people get sorted out for what comes next,” Britain’s army chief, Mike Jackson said.
The first aid ship docked in the southern port of Umm Qasr -- part of an effort by London and Washington to show their foe is Saddam, not his people.
The Sir Galahad, a British naval supply vessel carrying 200 tonnes of food, medicine, blankets and water, arrived after days of delay while mines were cleared from the waterway.
In New York, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to approve using billions of dollars in Iraqi oil revenues to buy food and medicine in a bid to avert a humanitarian crisis.
Gritty Iraqi resistance to US and British forces who want to be seen as liberators, not invaders, has doused expectations of a swift victory. Iraqi leaders have vowed to fight street by street to defend Baghdad.
Such a fight, a key element of Iraq’s defence plan, would dilute much of the US military’s overwhelming technological superiority and cause high civilian and military casualties.
The US ordered 100,000 more troops to the Gulf, but Information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said Americn forces faced a bleak fate with or without reinforcements.
“Iraq, with its weapons, its people and its territory, will become a living hell for the invaders,” he said.