bombs probably missed saddam:

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    Bunker busters probably missed Saddam: reports
    April 9 2003, 11:37 AM




    Iraqi President Saddam Hussein likely survived a US airstrike - aimed at killing him and his two sons with four massive bombs - which destroyed three houses and killed up to 14 people in a residential area, according to British intelligence sources quoted today.

    "He was probably not in the building when it was bombed (on Monday)," The Guardian quoted a source as saying.

    The Times said Britain's foreign intelligence service, MI6, told the US Central Intelligence Agency that it believed Saddam left the targeted building in Baghdad just before it was bombed.

    "We think he left the same way he arrived in the area, either by a tunnel system or by car, we're not sure," the paper quoted a British intelligence source as saying.

    A US B-1 bomber struck the building in the al Mansour residential area in response to intelligence that Saddam and his sons, Uday and Qusay, were meeting inside with senior Iraqi intelligence officials.

    The bomber struck the building with four 900 kg guided bombs, two of them bunker busters, US officials said.

    Major General Stanley McChrystal, vice director of operations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Washington press briefing that the airstrike had been "very, very effective", but it was not known if the targets were still alive.

    "What we have for battle damage assessment right now is essentially a hole in the ground, a site of destruction where we wanted it to be, where we believe high value targets were," McChrystal said yesterday.

    "We do not have a hard and fast assessment of what individual or individuals were on site," he added.

    After the attack, a US source said the target was a restaurant. But US officials later said the intended objective was 100 metres from the only restaurant in the neighbourhood, and that it was hit.

    Al-Saa'a restaurant, a popular Baghdad eatery that serves grilled fare, appeared intact yesterday, except for blown-out windows and doors.

    Three houses were reduced to rubble and at least 20 houses and nearly two dozen nearby shops were damaged, some seriously, from the force of the blast, which left a 500 metre radius of debris and a massive crater.

    "It felt like a strong earthquake," said Nahid Abdullah, 26, who lives in the neighbourhood.

    Strewn over surrounding streets were everything from doorknobs or ceiling beams to bits of wooden furniture and light fixtures. The bombs uprooted three orange trees that once stood outside the houses and left a palm tree in one backyard completely charred.

    The body of an elderly man was found on Monday night. Today, rescuers using a bulldozer and their bare hands dug out the body of a small boy and the decapitated body of a 20-year-old woman. The bodies were placed in blankets and quilts and put aside on the footpath.

    Neighbours said as many as 14 people, including at least seven children, may have been killed. Scores have been injured in adjacent homes and shops, where the debris and shrapnel blew out doors and windows.

    Scores of Iraqis have been killed and hundreds injured in the US-led air campaign on the capital. Civilian casualties have increased dramatically since US forces arrived in the capital last week, with neighbourhoods close to where fighting take place suffering the most.

    Taleb Saadi, a doctor at Baghdad's al-Kindi hospital, said between 30 and 35 bodies arrived at the hospital yesterday, and as many as 300 injured people were treated at its emergency ward.

    The streets were quiet yesterday, with most Baghdad residents sheltering in their homes.

    North of the capital, thousands were fleeing in buses, trucks, vans and light trucks packed with food, clothes, blankets and cooking supplies.

    While rescue workers searched for more bodies in al-Mansour with the help of neighbours and volunteers, relatives squatted on a footpath across the road. Some wept; others buried their faces in their hands.

    When the body of the young woman was brought out, torso first and then her severed head, her mother started crying uncontrollably. She later collapsed and was helped into a car.

    A US official said the Pentagon was confident that Saddam and his sons were in al-Saa'a restaurant before it was bombed.

    "Our intelligence was solid," the official said. He did not elaborate on the source of the intelligence.

    He said Saddam was known to frequent the restaurant, apparently believing coalition forces would not target him so close to a civilian centre.

    On April 4, state Iraqi television showed lengthy footage of Saddam, or at least a man who looked exactly like him, on a walkabout of several Baghdad districts, including al-Mansour, when al-Saa'a appeared in the background.

    Those close to Saddam say the Iraqi leader is so obsessed with security that very few people know about his movements. He maintains dozens of residences and uses doubles to keep people guessing.

    Coalition strikes have aimed at top Iraqi leaders from the very start of the war.

    On the opening day of the war on March 20, US President George W Bush authorised a strike on a suburban Baghdad compound where Saddam and his sons were thought to be staying. But US intelligence officials suspect Saddam survived.

    Yesterday, reporters were allowed to visit al-Saa'a. Not a single policeman was in sight.

 
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