Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director for operations for the Joint Staff, told a Pentagon briefing, ”There are recent press reports that coalition forces bombed a marketplace in Baghdad. Coalition forces did not target a marketplace nor were any bombs or missiles dropped or fired” in the northern neighborhood of Al-Shaab.
“We don’t know for a fact whether it was U.S. or Iraqi. And we can’t make any assumption on either at this point,” he said.
“We’ll continue to look and see if we missed anything. But another explanation could be that [Iraqi] triple-A [anti-aircraft artillery fire] or [a] surface-to-air missile that missed its target fell back into the marketplace area,” McChrystal added.
According to Reuters, the attack came around mid-day Wednesday local time (overnight EST), with two blasts allegedly striking the densely populated northern Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Shaab. Associated Press Television News broadcast images from the area showing a large crater in the street, smoke pouring from a building, damaged cars and bodies wrapped in plastic sheets.
Haneed Dulaimi, head of the Iraqi defense unit for the area, told Reuters no military facilities are located in the neighborhood. Iraqi and Arab television broadcast footage of the attack’s aftermath, including protests from angry Iraqis.
In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Central Command said that coalition aircraft “used precision-guided weapons to target nine Iraqi surface-to-surface missiles and launchers in Baghdad at approximately 3 a.m. EST. The missiles and launchers were placed within a civilian residential area. Most of the missiles were positioned less than 300 feet from homes. A full assessment of the operation is ongoing.”
“Military targets — such as the missiles and launchers placed in Baghdad — are a threat to Coalition military forces and will be attacked,” the statement went on to say. “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.”
Bombing attacks earlier Wednesday targeted Iraqi broadcasting and communications facilities, knocking state-run Iraqi satellite television off the air for several hours. Reporters in the city reported smoke rising from the Iraqi television headquarters and the country’s information ministry.
Meanwhile, U.S. ground troops continued their advance northward toward Baghdad, fighting swirling sand as they made their way within 50 miles of the capital city.
However, the coalition forces’ advance is no secret to the people of Baghdad, New York Times correspondent John Burns reported in an article published Wednesday.
“With shortwave radios and the word-of-mouth networks that keep Iraqis informed of realities their rulers who would deny them, there was hardly a man or woman in Baghdad, or even a child over 7 or 8 for that matter, who did not know that the Americans were almost at the city’s gates,” Burns wrote.
Iraqi military elements are reportedly digging in south of Baghdad in an attempt to prevent coalition forces from reaching the city. Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, said Tuesday that coalition air strikes have also targeted those southern Iraqi Republican Guard installations.