Bombs Pound Baghdad,
Iraqis Still Defiant

By Nadim Ladki

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Bombs and missiles crashed into Baghdad again on Friday as the United States kept up a relentless bombardment, but a defiant Iraq promised "living hell" for the Americans and their British allies.
U.S. and British leaders told their people the war to topple President Saddam Hussein would be won whatever the difficulties, but acknowledged it might take time.
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said overnight raids on the capital had killed seven civilians and wounded 92. He accused U.S. forces of bombing the holy Shi'ite Muslim city of Najaf, killing 26 civilians and wounding 60.
Iraqi Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmed said on Thursday U.S. and British forces might encircle Baghdad in five to 10 days. "But they have to come into the city eventually...God willing, Baghdad will be impregnable," he declared.
A U.S. officer said earlier that U.S. forces had battled around 1,500 Iraqis overnight near Najaf, 100 miles south of the capital, but had no word on casualties.
Reuters reporter Luke Baker, near Najaf, said U.S. forces had used tanks and heavy artillery. "The battle raged for a few hours. It finished about 3 a.m. (7 p.m. EST Thursday)," Baker said.
Sahaf said Iraqi forces had destroyed 33 tanks and armored vehicles and killed four invaders in the area on Thursday.
In the south, Britain said Iraqi forces had fired mortars and machineguns at about 1,000 civilians fleeing the besieged city of Basra. One woman was seriously hurt.
Sahaf said 116 people had been killed and 695 wounded in Basra, Iraq's second city, since the war began on March 20.
More U.S. troops arrived in Kurdish-held northern Iraq overnight, advancing plans to open a new front against Baghdad.
Jubilant Kurdish fighters poured over one frontline near the town of Chamchamal after Iraqi troops withdrew toward the oil city of Kirkuk, leaving five bodies in a bunker. The area has been regularly bombed by U.S. warplanes.
President Bush said the campaign to oust Saddam would be won "no matter how long it takes."
His closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said the conflict would have "tough and difficult moments."
Fears of a protracted war pushed oil prices to their highest level since the start of the conflict and Asian shares dipped.
The United States ordered 100,000 more troops to the Gulf and a U.S. general said fierce Iraqi resistance and guerrilla tactics pointed to a longer conflict than planners had forecast.
"The enemy we're fighting is different from the one we'd war-gamed against," Lieutenant General William Wallace, commander of the Army's 5th Corps, told The Washington Post.
A street battle for Baghdad, a city of five million people, would probably inflict high military and civilian casualties.
Sahaf said U.S. forces faced a bleak fate with or without reinforcements. "Iraq, with its weapons, its people and its territory, will become a living hell for the invaders," he said.
As the assault on Iraq went into its ninth day, the U.S. military said a B-2 warplane had dropped two bombs on a tower block housing a communications link in the city center.
Correspondent Nadim Ladki saw two damaged communications centers in central Baghdad. One large building had been struck at its base. A tangled pile of smoldering rubble was all that was left of a smaller facility. Many telephone lines were knocked out.
A large fire blazed on the west bank of the River Tigris and thick smoke billowed on the horizon after dozens of blasts in the eastern and southern fringes of the Iraqi capital.
Anti-aircraft fire rattled above the rooftops as U.S. missiles hit an area close to government buildings including the ministries of information, planning and foreign affairs.
Reuters correspondent Samia Nakhoul said it had been one of the heaviest nights of bombing so far. Orange fireballs bloomed into the night sky as explosions erupted from all sides.
With U.S. and British troops facing stiff Iraqi resistance at river crossings in southern Iraq and harried by paramilitary forces striking stretched supply lines, Bush refused to say when the war might end.
"This isn't a matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory," he said after a war council with Blair. "The Iraqi people have got to know...that they will be liberated and Saddam Hussein will be removed, no matter how long it takes."
In the north, more U.S. troops moved overnight into the Harir airstrip that was secured by 1,000 paratroopers on Wednesday.
Reuters journalist Soheil Afdjei saw four transport helicopters, up to 60 vehicles and about 150 troops at the airstrip in Kurdish-held mountains near Arbil.
Turkey's refusal to let 62,000 U.S. troops and heavy armor move across its soil to Iraq forced the Pentagon to rethink its original war plans, that envisaged attacking Saddam's power bases in Baghdad and Tikrit from the north as well as the south.
U.S. columns moving toward Baghdad from the south appeared to pause on Friday to regroup and consolidate supply lines that have come under repeated attack by Iraqi paramilitaries.
U.S. troops were also building up about 80 km (50 miles) south of Baghdad, preparing for what could be a critical battle with Republican Guards near the Shi'ite holy city of Kerbala.
"Kerbala is shaping up to be a key battle," said U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Paul Grosskruger.
A full Iraqi brigade of some 6,000 men, including tanks, were deployed around the city on both sides of the Euphrates river, U.S. officers said. Some were from the Medina division of the elite Republican Guard, others were regular army troops.
In Baghdad, the thud of distant explosions and anti-aircraft fire echoed from the west of the city in mid-morning, as black smoke poured into blue skies from burning oil trenches lit by Iraqi forces to try and hamper U.S. and British pilots.
Hundreds of Baath Party militiamen armed with AK-47 assault rifles were guarding government buildings and manning sandbagged posts on street corners and trenches in squares and guardens.
In Saadoun street, militiamen were clearing rubble from the smoldering al-Alawiya communications center hit overnight.
"This is a civilian communications center, why did they hit it?" one resident said. "It seems the serious military action in Baghdad is coming near." The United States and Britain launched the war to overthrow Saddam and rid Iraq of alleged weapons of mass destruction. Iraq denies it has any, and none has yet been found.
Diplomats said the U.N. Security Council was close to agreeing a deal to free billions of dollars of Iraq's oil revenues in a bid to avert a humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
A British spokesman said a British supply ship, Sir Galahad, would dock in the southern port of Umm Qasr later on Friday, carrying a first shipment of 200 tons of humanitarian aid.
Britain and the United States say plans to ship in supplies to tackle a humanitarian crisis in Basra and elsewhere have been delayed by mines found in a channel leading to Umm Qasr.
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