Death, Fear, Grief at Baghdad Bomb Site But No Sign of Iraqi Leader
Tuesday 8 Paril 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A young woman's severed head and torso and a small boy's body were pulled Tuesday from a smoking crater carved into the earth by four U.S. bombs, so powerful they yanked orange trees from their roots. But there was no sign of the man those bombs were aimed at: Saddam Hussein.
For the second time in the war, coalition forces were wondering whether they'd gotten their man. One thing was all too clear, though: Once again, civilians had suffered.
When the broken body of the 20-year-old woman was brought out torso first, then the head her mother started crying uncontrollably, then collapsed. She was helped into a car by two male relatives.
Across the street from the crater, which lay amid the ruins of three houses, relatives squatted on the sidewalk and watched as rescue workers and volunteers, using a bulldozer and their bare hands, searched for their loved ones. Some wept; others just buried their faces in their hands.
U.S. officials said they believed their attack in the upscale al-Mansour neighborhood had successfully destroyed the target but that they didn't know exactly who had been inside, and what their condition was.
After the attack, a U.S. source said the target was a restaurant. But officials later said the intended objective was 100 yards from the only restaurant in the neighborhood, and that it was hit.
The site remained in Iraqi hands Tuesday. And while some officials said it would take a lot of digging and forensic work to determine if Saddam had been inside, it wasn't clear when that work could be done.
There was no unusual security around the bomb site Tuesday; not even a single policeman was in sight. Reporters were allowed to visit; by contrast, when U.S.-led forces first attempted to kill Saddam with an opening-salvo airstrike in the beginning of the war, reporters were not allowed to visit that suburban compound.
Acting on an intelligence tip, coalition forces attacked at about 3 p.m. Monday, turning the three houses into a 60-foot-deep crater. At least 20 other houses and nearly two dozen shops were damaged.
Strewn over surrounding streets were door knobs, ceiling beams, bits of wooden furniture, light fixtures and other debris. Three orange trees that once stood outside the houses had been uprooted; a palm tree in a backyard was charred.
An elderly man's body was found Monday night. On Tuesday, rescuers recovered the small boy's body, and that of the 20-year-old woman. The bodies were placed in blankets and quilts and put on the sidewalk.
''It felt like a strong earthquake,'' recalled neighbor Nahid Abdullah, 26.
''I flew for two meters (yards),'' said greengrocer Hassan Ameen, 35. Others spoke of the sound of air being sucked before the blast was heard.
Neighbors said 14 people, including at least seven children, may have been killed, and scores wounded in the adjacent homes and shops, where debris and shrapnel blew out doors and windows.
Scores of Iraqis have been killed and hundreds injured in the U.S.-led air campaign on Baghdad. Civilian casualties have increased dramatically since U.S. ground forces arrived in the capital last week.
Taleb Saadi, a doctor at Baghdad's al-Kindi hospital, said 30 to 35 bodies arrived at the hospital Tuesday and as many as 300 wounded were treated at its emergency ward.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Pentagon was confident that Saddam and his sons were at the targeted site before it was bombed. ''Our intelligence was solid,'' the official said. He did not elaborate on the source of the intelligence.
On April 4, when Iraqi state television showed lengthy footage of Saddam or at least a man who looked like him on a walkabout of several Baghdad districts, one of those areas was the al-Mansour neighborhood.
Those close to Saddam have said the Iraqi leader is so obsessed with security that very few people would know about his movements. He maintains dozens of residences and uses doubles to keep people guessing.
On the opening day of the war March 20, President Bush authorized a strike on a suburban Baghdad compound where Saddam and his sons were thought to be staying. U.S. intelligence officials suspect that he survived that attack.
Fate of 'Chemical Ali' Remains in Question
By Peter Baker
Tuesday 8 April 2003
Officials Wonder if Top Aide to Hussein Is DeadMARINE COMBAT HEADQUARTERS, Iraq, -- Since the first night of the war in Iraq, U.S. commanders have been trying to find and kill Ali Hassan Majeed, known as "Chemical Ali" for ordering the use of poison gas against ethnic Kurds 15 years ago. Time and again over the last 18 days, U.S. forces have bombed and raided houses where they thought he was staying, only to turn up empty-handed.
Over the weekend, an informer told U.S.-British forces that Majeed could be found at an office compound in Basra, the country's second-largest city, then under siege by British forces. Majeed, a cousin of President Saddam Hussein and his military commander in the south, might have chemicals with him, the informer said. In swooped the F-16 jets, and the buildings exploded into fireballs.
This morning, British officers said they found Majeed's body.
By this evening, however, British forces said they believed Majeed might have survived the attack. But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials in Washington said they believed he was dead. Given Majeed's success in eluding his hunters, U.S. officers in Iraq remained more cautious.
"Until they do a DNA, I'm not going to speculate," said an exasperated Col. Larry Brown, operations chief for the Marines in Iraq. "The guy has been like Freddy Krueger -- we've killed him five times already."
Majeed has long been one of the most influential members of Hussein's inner circle and, according to human rights groups and opponents of the Iraqi government, one of its most brutal. In addition to leading the 1988 campaign in northern Iraq against the Kurds, in which an estimated 100,000 people were killed, Majeed also played a central role in suppressing the 1991 rebellion of Shiites in southern Iraq after the Persian Gulf War.
"There were concerted efforts to track him and kill him," said Lt. Col. Jamie Martin, the chief British liaison at Marine headquarters. "He's a very powerful figure of the regime, and his reputation for ruthlessness [was well known]. As with Saddam, his personal control has been quite a key function in what resistance there has been."
"We felt he had his finger on the button and if he said, 'Deliver chemical weapons,' chemical weapons would be delivered," said Lt. Col. David Pere, senior watch officer at the Marine headquarters. Pere has overseen several attempts to kill Majeed and said the hunt alone has been enough to sideline the Iraqi commander. "We felt if we could take him out, we would reduce the possibility of chemical attack. And two weeks later, there's been no chemical attack, and he's been on the run."
While U.S. military officials announced publicly that they had targeted Hussein in the initial barrage of Tomahawk missiles that kicked off the war, they did not mention that they were trying to hit Majeed as well.
When they missed, they tracked him through intelligence to a house in Amarah, north of Basra, two nights later and sent in F/A-18 Hornets to bomb it. U.S. officials initially thought they had succeeded that time, and one officer jubilantly declared, "We think he's no longer breathing air."
Not the case, they discovered. A week later, they thought they had found him again in Ash Shattra, a small town north of Nasiriyah. They launched a commando raid but came up empty again.
The Basra strike occurred when a source told the U.S.-British commanders that Majeed would be returning to a complex of office buildings on the riverfront early Saturday morning, along with a general and two colonels, according to U.S. and British officers. "We set up a strike for later that morning," said Maj. Bryant Sewall, a U.S. Marine liaison officer working with the British. "We made a positive ID on the target that was described."
The officers first requested JDAM precision-guided bombs, but that was rejected because of fear of collateral damage, so instead a pair of F-16 jets dropped a half-dozen 500-pound laser-guided bombs. Sewall, studying satellite imagery accurate to a meter, talked in the pilots to the target and "cleared them hot."
Sewall said he believed the strike got Majeed. There is "no credible evidence he's still around," he said, and people in Basra are "totally and completely convinced he was in there and is dead." A British officer, Maj. Andrew Jackson, told the Associated Press that Majeed was dead.
But later in the day, other officers backtracked. British troops received a tip that Majeed was alive and began to pursue him again. "The Brits say they have him cornered," Pere said, "so when they said a couple days ago that it was 99 percent [certain that he was dead], I guess the 1 percent was right."
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