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Funerals, shops occupy city under siege

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Wailing and sobbing, black-clad mourners gathered Saturday for a funeral procession amid the wreckage of a Baghdad marketplace where Iraqi officials say dozens of civilians died in a coalition bombing.

Elsewhere, Iraq's Information Ministry building was damaged but not destroyed in a U.S. missile attack before dawn Saturday. Planes were heard over the capital, drawing antiaircraft fire, and the blazes started by authorities to conceal targets were sending darker-than-usual clouds over the city on an otherwise clear day.

During daylight operations Saturday, U.S. warplanes dropped six 500-pound laser-guided bombs and nine 500-pound unguided bombs on military vehicles and a command bunker south of Baghdad, said Lt.j.g. Nicole Kratzer, spokeswoman for the USS Kitty Hawk's air wing.

Explosions continued to rock Baghdad late Saturday and early today, many around the southern fringes of the city where the Republican Guard, Saddam Hussein's best trained fighters, is thought to be dug in.

Three-quarters of the allied airstrikes are now going after Republican Guard forces ringing Baghdad, Air Force Brig. Gen. Daniel Darnell said.

Despite the fires and intermittent explosions, Saturday saw the heaviest traffic on the streets of Baghdad since the war broke out. Many shops were open in the commercial districts and thousands of residents were on the streets.

At Al-Nasr market in the working-class district of Shoala, crowds of mourners wailed amid bloodstains and piles of wreckage. Blood-soaked children's slippers sat on the street not far from a crater blasted into the ground.

At the scene of the Friday bombing, women in black chadors were sobbing outside homes where some of the victims lived. Men cried and hugged each other as a funeral procession passed through the market.

Down the road, residents gathered at a Shiite Muslim mosque, crowded around seven wooden coffins draped in blankets. Some of the men stood silently. Others sobbed into trembling hands. In the background, women cried, "Oh God! Oh God!"

Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf had said earlier that 58 people were killed -- and many others wounded -- in the market explosion Friday evening. There were conflicting reports, however, on the number of casualties.

Elsewhere Saturday, the Information Ministry remained standing after a Tomahawk cruise missile attack that the U.S. military command said was aimed at the ministry building. But many of the satellite dishes on the roof -- used by foreign TV crews -- were destroyed, and glass from broken windows was strewn in the hallways.

The decision reflected a broader trend as the war moved through its 11th day. With the daunting military challenges still lying between Baghdad and U.S. military units checked in their advance toward the capital, intensified American air power has become essential to maintaining pressure on Hussein and his inner circle of leaders.

Viewed from the ground in Baghdad, the U.S. strategy involves hitting key government targets hard and often enough to try to break the Iraqi leader's iron grip on every aspect of government activity here.

-- Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

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