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Baghdad Hammered by Massive Explosions

The powerful bombs, combined with Tomahawk missiles fired from coalition ships and warplanes, struck several government installations, according to coalition Central Command. A key communications tower on the east bank of the Tigris River was destroyed in the blasts, news agencies reported.

Air strikes also targeted members of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard stationed outside the city. Members of the elite Iraqi fighting force, working to fortify the city to guard against approaching coalition ground forces, have been targets of constant bombardment for several days.

The strikes demolished a seven-story telephone exchange building in an area called Al-Alwya, the Associated Press reported, leaving slabs of concrete and iron rods littering the streets.

Missiles also slammed into at least one building on the grounds of Saddam’s main palace, The Washington Post reports.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al Sahaf said Friday’s wave of air strikes in Baghdad had killed seven people, wounded some 92 others and caused extensive damage to several buildings.

“They hit the ministry of information, ministry of planning, the communications. In these buildings are civilians who go there to do their business,” he said. “These buildings are in the city. When they target these buildings, they also hit houses and homes next to these buildings.”

Coalition officials have maintained throughout the conflict that precision strikes using satellite-controlled bombs are meant to minimize civilian casualties and damage to structures close to targeted areas.

“We have a very, very deliberate process for targeting,” U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told a Central Command briefing Wednesday. “And we do everything physically and scientifically possible to be precise in our targeting and also to minimize secondary effects, whether it’s on people or on structures.”

The bombing followed comments from Iraqi Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed, who told reporters that he expected U.S.-led forces to encircle the capital within five to 10 days.

“They have to come into the city eventually,” he said. “The enemy can bypass the resistance and go in the desert as far as it wants. In the end, where can he go? He has to enter the city.”

“God willing, Baghdad will be impregnable. We will fight to the end and everywhere. History will record how well Iraqis performed in defense of their capital,” he added.

As coalition forces continue their march toward Baghdad, President Bush said Thursday in a press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair that the war will continue until Saddam Hussein is deposed.

“This isn’t a matter of timetables; it’s a matter of victory. And the Iraqi people have got to know that,” the president said. “They’ve got to know that they will be liberated, and Saddam Hussein will be removed, no matter how long it takes.”