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Air Strikes Hit Baghdad, Sides Blame Each Other for Civilian Deaths

BY Admin  March 29, 2003 at 5:00 PM EDT

Reuters correspondent Nadim Ladki said four large explosions shook central Baghdad just after 7:30 p.m. (11:30 a.m. EST).

Fierce attacks beginning on Saturday night local time also targeted outlying areas where Iraq’s Republican Guard are believed to be dug in to defend the capital against advancing U.S.-led forces.

“There has been very heavy bombardment to the south and to the west. It seems unprecedented,” Ladki said.

The latest wave of bombings followed a Friday night that brought a strike on Iraq’s Information Ministry and a deadly blast in a crowded Baghdad marketplace that Iraq said killed over 60 civilians.

Dr Enaam Mohammad of Al Noor hospital told reporters on Saturday the toll in the attack had risen to 62 dead and 49 injured. Abu Dhabi television said U.S. cruise missiles may have hit the market and showed a gaping hole on one street and damaged cars.

The coalition forces and Saddam Hussein’s regime each accuse the other of causing the civilian casualties.

Reports in some Arab media join the Iraq government in blaming the U.S.-led forces for the marketplace blast.

“Martyrs’ blood flows yet again in Baghdad,” said Bahrain’s Akhbar al-Khaleej.

“A new atrocity and humanitarian disaster committed by the Americans,” Yemen’s Thawra newspaper added. “Yet another massacre by the coalition of invaders,” read the main headline in Saudi Arabia’s popular Al Riyadh daily.

Meanwhile, Britain said on Saturday the commander of Iraq’s air defense forces in Baghdad had been replaced after Iraqi surface-to-air missiles, aimed at Western warplanes, had missed and fallen back on the Iraqi capital. A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair quoted intelligence reports for the information.

At U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar on Saturday, Major-General Victor Renuart told reports that the U.S. was investigating the report that a U.S. missile struck the marketplace.

“I think the response of anyone is it’s a tragedy when innocent civilians are killed. We took note of that event. We are looking at targets that may have caused something like that. But it’s — I really can’t give you any more detail that would either clarify or clear that particular issue,” Renuart said.

In a similar incident, when a bombing on Wednesday destroyed another Baghdad marketplace, U.S. officials suggested an errant Iraqi surface-to-air missile was to blame.

Renuart said an investigation of Wednesday’s blast was almost complete. “We want to make sure that if there is an error we will find that out and… if it was carried out by an Iraqi system,” he said.

In all, officials in Baghdad claim that 589 civilians throughout Iraq have been killed in the war and more than 4,500 injured. There is no way to confirm those numbers and independent aid agencies have not issued any statistics.