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Target Hussein: Neighborhood left smoldering

By Associated Press
Published April 9, 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 had gotten their man. One thing was all too clear, though: Once again, civilians had suffered.

When the body of the 20-year-old woman was brought out - torso first, then the head - her mother started crying uncontrollably, then collapsed.

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 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 Mansour neighborhood had successfully destroyed the target - but that they didn't know exactly who had been inside, and what their condition was.

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 Hussein 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 Hussein 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 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," 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 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 told the Associated Press that the Pentagon was confident that Hussein and his sons were at the targeted site before it was bombed.

On April 4, when Iraqi state television showed lengthy footage of Hussein - or at least a man who looked like him - on a walkabout of several Baghdad districts, one of those areas was the Mansour neighborhood.

Those close to Hussein 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.

[Last modified April 9, 2003, 02:16:40]