During a Saturday briefing by Central Command in Doha, Qatar, U.S. Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart told reporters that the air strike had been ordered on the building when intelligence indicated there were many Saddam Fedayeen and Baathists in the complex.
“Each time we make one of these attacks we continue to degrade the regime,” he said after the Central Command showed video tape of the strike which obliterated a big building in which it said the party members were meeting.
British forces charged with taking control of the city said the destruction of Baath Party leaders and militia leaders was one of the major goals of coalition military planners.
“Irregular forces show a determination to resist but slowly are being eroded,” British Colonel Chris Vernon said. “The targeting and eradication of the Baath Party is now our main focus and main military effort.”
U.S. officials said they had used a so-called delayed fuse bomb that first penetrated the building then detonated within it.
Central Command said it had no information on the number of those killed, but British forces said it appeared all within the building had been killed.
The strike, one of nine against Baath party buildings in Iraq early Saturday, is part of a larger campaign to target units loyal to Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
British officials said it is the Baath Party irregular militia that has held out in Iraq’s second largest city. These fighters have reportedly also fired mortars and automatic rifles at Iraqi civilians trying to flee across the Euphrates River.
British Colonel Chris Vernon said early Saturday that his country’s forces had developed a strategy to try to win the confidence of Iraqi civilians in the city of 1.5 million people in order to break the hold of the Baath Party.
“There is no rush, we will do it on our terms on our own conditions, with no undue risk to the people of Basra or to British soldiers,” he told a news conference in Kuwait.