Iraq: 200 Baghdad bomb casualties
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- More than 200 civilians have been injured in the U.S.-led bombing of Baghdad, Iraq's information minister said Saturday.
Mohammad Saeed al-Sahaf was speaking to reporters after a huge barrage of bombs and missiles hit the Iraqi capital Friday evening with sporadic air raid alerts and isolated explosions continuing through the night.
Pentagon officials said the assault was the beginning of an air campaign designed to "shock and awe" the Iraqi leadership into capitulation.
The powerful explosions devastated government buildings in and around Baghdad, including the sprawling Republican Palace compound, which contains key Iraqi command and control facilities. Enormous clouds of smoke shot into the sky, and fires burned into the night.
Al-Sahaf described coalition force leaders as "liars" and "outlaws" and said everything the U.S. military has reported so far is propaganda.
"In hospitals there are 207 people, woman, children and other civilians. And we'll take you if you like to visit them and see for yourselves," he told journalists at a news conference Saturday.
Calling the bombing in Baghdad a "cowardly assault," al-Sahaf denied U.S. claims that they launched more than 300 missiles.
"We have calculated in a small area of Baghdad, 19 missiles fell. I went there and saw parts of these missiles -- 19 missiles in a very small area," he said. "Therefore I expect tons of missiles have been shot down by the Iraqis."
Iraq's information minister also said the United States is so desperate to show progress that it "kidnapped" thousands of Iraqi civilians and forced them to dress up like soldiers, pretending to surrender to coalition forces in the oil-rich Faw peninsula of southern Iraq.
Al-Sahaf said, despite the lies playing out in the media, Iraqi soldiers were holding their ground and intense fighting continues.
Meanwhile, a U.S. administration official told CNN that Iraqi expatriates have been brokering negotiations between CIA and U.S. military officials and elements within Iraq's Republican Guard on a broader surrender, although no deal has yet been struck. (Full story)
After surveying the damage in Baghdad, Al-Sahaf, said two major buildings, called the "Peace Palace " and the "Flower Palace" were turned "into ruins."
An angry al-Sahaf called U.S. President George W. Bush "that murderer" and said coalition forces should surrender "because we will behead you all."
State television also broadcast pictures of what it said was Saddam Hussein meeting Friday with his son Qusay. The Iraqi leader and his sons were the target of the first U.S. airstrike early Thursday.
Iraqi television broadcast a statement from Saddam after that raid, but U.S. officials suggest the appearance might have been pre-taped.
The White House had "no concrete facts" to indicate whether Saddam survived the attack, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Friday.
State television also broadcast pictures of Saddam accompanied by traditional music and scenes of Baath Party supporters chanting, "With our soul, with our blood, oh, Saddam, we will save you."
At least three other cities in Iraq -- Mosul, Kirkuk and Tikrit, Saddam's ancestral home -- were also bombed.
On Saturday morning, dozens of U.S. F-14 Tomcat and F-18 Hornet warplanes left two aircraft carriers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, bound for "leadership structure targets" and communications facilities in western and south-central Iraq, reported CNN Correspondent Gary Strieker, who is embedded on one of the ships, the USS Roosevelt.
The multifaceted campaign also involves B-1, B-2, B-52, F-117 and F-15 aircraft, sent from 38 different locations, including 30 air bases in the Middle East, England and as far away as Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, senior U.S. defense sources said.
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