Allies bomb Information Ministry in Baghdad

Updated on Mar 29, 2003 12:42 PM IST

A huge blast shook the Information Ministry area in Baghdad that houses most govt offices.

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PTI | ByAssociated Press, Baghdad

A huge explosion in the area of the Information Ministry in Baghdad early on Saturday sent clouds of white smoke into the sky and shook windows in the city centre, correspondents in the Iraqi capital said.

"It was a huge explosion" that seemed to be very close to the Information Ministry, said correspondent Khaled Yacoub Oweis.

The blast at about 1 am (2200 GMT Friday) shook the windows of the building where he was watching the raid, some three kilometres away on the far bank of the Tigris river.

Anti-aircraft fire lit the sky as the sound of warplanes droned overhead. The city's mosques began broadcasting the call to prayer over their loudspeakers as the raid began.

US officials have said they are targeting communications facilities in an effort to prevent President Saddam Hussein from controlling the country and his armed forces.

A media pool television camera on the information ministry building was still filming after the blast, indicating that if the building had been targeted, it was not destroyed.

Previous raids have struck television facilities close to the Information Ministry and elsewhere. Iraq's international satellite television channel went off the air late on Friday, although domestic broadcasts went on as normal.

A few hours' lull ended when blasts hit the southern outskirts again shortly before midnight (2100 GMT), in areas where US-led forces have been targeting Iraqi forces defending Baghdad against American troops invading from the south.

Further north, explosions also rocked Mosul late on Friday, as reported by a correspondent for Al-Jazeera television, one of the few international media with a reporter in the city.

Hours earlier, Iraqis held US-led forces responsible for the blast at the Baghdad market that left scores dead or injured. Osama Sakhari, a doctor at the al-Noor Hospital, said he had counted 55 people killed and more than 47 wounded from the market in the city's northern Shula neighbourhood.

A correspondent Hassan Hafidh counted five bodies.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said at least 58 people had been killed. Abu Dhabi television said US cruise missiles may have hit the market and showed a gaping hole on one street and damaged cars.

The US military on Thursday said an earlier explosion in a Baghdad residential area on Wednesday may have been caused by an errant Iraqi air-defence missile or deliberate sabotage by the Iraqi administration. On Friday, a US general said the military was still looking into what might have caused it.

Residents in Baghdad said eight people had died in a raid earlier on Friday on an office of President Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

US defence officials said a B-2 stealth bomber had dropped two 4,600-pound (2,086-kg) bombs -- known as "bunker-busters" -- on a communications centre in downtown Baghdad on Friday.

During the day on Friday, a large fire blazed on the west bank of the Tigris and thick, billowing smoke rose on the horizon after dozens of blasts in the eastern and southern fringes of the capital.

Iraqi defence positions spat anti-aircraft fire above the rooftops as US missiles hit government offices, including the ministries of information, planning and foreign affairs.

The raids knocked out many telephone lines -- some of the first bombing damage to civilian infrastructure.

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