US cluster bombing civilians: Iraq
As more air raids pounded Baghdad, Iraq accused the US of targetting civilians and claimed that over 350 people had been killed in the first week of the war.india Updated: Mar 27, 2003 17:34 IST
Iraq claimed on Thursday that more than 350 people had been killed in the first week of the war and accused the United States of dropping cluster bombs on civilians in Baghdad.
As more air raids pounded the city, grieving families prepared to bury their dead from an attack on a Baghdad apartment block on Wednesday. US commanders said President Saddam Hussein was hiding military targets in residential areas.
The tit-for-tat accusations came amid a report in the Washington Post that US officials were reassessing their timelines, and now believe the war could drag on for months.
Iraqi Health Minister Umid Medhat Mubarak told reporters in Baghdad that more than 350 people had been killed and 3,650 wounded since US-led forces launched the war to topple Saddam last Thursday.
He said the figures were "approximate" but that women, children and the elderly accounted for most of the victims. He said coalition forces had used cluster bombs on civilians in Baghdad and Iraq's second-largest city, Basra.
Medical facilities and personnel had also been targeted in the cities of Nasiriyah and Najaf, he said.
A series of explosions boomed out early on Thursday from Baghdad's southern rim, site of a huge military camp relentlessly pounded by US and British raids as coalition forces advance north on the capital.
Baghdad was hammered through the night, when three massive explosions could be felt in the city centre.
In the neighbourhood known as the "City of the People," tears and rage lay in store ahead of funerals for the 14 people killed on Wednesday when two missiles smashed into apartment complexes.
The US Central Command did not say it was responsible for the deaths but said Iraqi forces had been stationing military hardware in civilian areas.
"Military targets -- such as the missiles and launchers placed in Baghdad -- are a threat to coalition military forces and will be attacked," it said in a statement.
"While the coalition goes to great lengths to avoid injury to civilians and damage to civilian facilities, in some cases such damage is unavoidable when the regime places military weapons near civilian areas," it said.
US general Stanley McChrystal at the Pentagon refused to rule out the possibility that an Iraqi missile had hit the site.
Ath-Thawra, the daily newspaper that serves as the mouthpiece of Saddam's ruling Baath party, accused the UN Security Council of acting as mere "spectators" and called on it to bring about an end to the war.
Meanwhile senior US officials quoted by the Washington Post said the war could last months and need massive reinforcements.
Bad weather, dangerously long supply lines and a feisty resistance by Iraqi forces "has led to a broad reassessment by some top generals of US military expectations and timelines," the paper said.
The New York Times quoted Iraqis captured by US forces who said their officers had threatened to shoot them if they did not fight.
The Pentagon said US forces had fired 600 Tomahawk cruise missiles and more than 4,300 precision-guided bombs in the first six days of the war.
Strikes have battered official buildings, including the state television's offices, Saddam's palaces and positions of the elite Republican Guard which blocks the entrance to the capital.
McChrystal, the joint staff vice director of operations, said coalition forces had advanced 355 kilometers into Iraqi territory, despite sandstorms and fierce resistance from Iraqi troops.
US army troops reported killing about 1,000 Iraqis in three days of fighting around Najaf, 150 kilometers south of Baghdad.
Major John Altman, intelligence officer of the Third Infantry Division's First Brigade, told AFP that Iraq was trying to reinforce Najaf with thousands of crack Republican Guard troops from Karbala to the north.
Iraq said coalition forces had to fight for the first time on Wednesday against its Republican Guard -- considered to be the fittest and most loyal of Saddam's forces -- and that a "large number" of them had been killed.
"Either they will be slaughtered or they should pull out now," Information Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf said.
The British military said two of its troops have been killed in action, four killed in "friendly fire" and 14 have died in helicopter accidents.
Dozens of US marines were injured around Nasiriyah in what appeared to be a "friendly-fire" incident, a correspondent with the troops reported Thursday.
First Published: Mar 27, 2003 17:34 IST